As technology continues to increase the human ability to document data, never before have records to personal information been so preserved and accessible. Before the Internet was in every home, school, and office, it was much more difficult to surface the details of the past, but with modern search engines, information can be discovered, opened, and circulated all over again. For some wishing to hide or move on from those past details, the “right to be forgotten” would be a welcome relief. In Europe, those wishing to disconnect from past information just got a ruling in their favor.
In May, the European Court of Justice ruled that Google is responsible for removing “outdated” or “irrelevant” links that show up in search results. Google had previously maintained that editing search results in this manner is censorship, but the ruling begins a new precedent that people have “the right to be forgotten.”
What does this mean for Google?
The ruling pretty much means that Google has a huge job on its hands. If European Internet users are finding “excessive,” “inadequate,” “irrelevant,” or “outdated” information rising up among the links of Google search results, they have a right to ask for that link to the information to be removed. Each person who wants information removed must submit a request, for which Google has now provided a form.
One problem with Google’s next plan of action is that this type of action has never been done before; there’s no precedents to follow or success stories to model. Therefore, Google has the harrowing task of responding to each request and deciding if it has merit. Having received thousands of requests each day, Google’s job of sorting through them all (including those with suspicious motives) will surely require a lot of energy for the world’s most popular search engine (does this mean that Google is now hiring?).
What does this mean for Internet users?
For Internet users in the United States, the ruling really doesn’t mean much at the moment. Because it is a European ruling, Google will only take out links in the European Union version of the search engine. As a result, Americans would need a similar ruling in a U.S. court in order for Google to start removing links here in the United States.
For European Internet users, it means that old information haunting in Google search results may disappear from the list if the person’s claims are legitimate. Will Google remove links to bad reviews or cringe-worthy articles? The public will have to wait and see, but it would seem that the older the information is, the better chance it will have for the link being removed. (For instance, a bad review online from a year ago is probably still valid, but a bad review online from 10 years ago may be outdated, especially if the business has changed locations, staff, etc.)
And remember, Google is only responsible for removing the links in search results, but the information will still remain on the original website.