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Search and You May Not Find

Who hasn’t Googled themselves? What you find about yourself might not always be to your liking, but it’s part of the mass of public information that makes the Internet the Internet.

Or so it used to be. A recent, some would argue vague, ruling by the EU’s European Court of Justice found that individuals have the right to ask Google and other search engines to file removal requests so that, as the court stated, “inadequate, irrelevant or no longer relevant”  information stops showing up in search—essentially, giving people the right to be forgotten. (An important distinction: Google and its search brethren wouldn’t be deleting information; they’d just be removing links from appearing in search results, which one could say amounts to nearly the same thing given our reliance on search engines for discovering information.

The impetus apparently came from a Spanish man who wanted links from the ‘90s related to the repossession of his home taken off Google. The court’s ruling will allow the information, which was originally published in a Spanish newspaper, to remain on the news site, but leaves the door open for its removal from Google.

The moral quandaries here are manifold. Thus far, a convicted pedophile and an ex-politician have already filed requests to have information about them removed from search. Privacy is certainly a right—but when does that right meander into opportunistic censorship?

Let’s say a brand wants to delete negative press about itself in an effort to manage its online reputation? Though the court said nothing about businesses in its ruling, brands could make a case for removal based on what came down from the ECJ.

Seems to me that if businesses do turn out to have the right to be forgotten, it’ll become a badge of honor for those brands that decide not to mess with their search results. Honesty in reality.

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