Earlier this week, the European Union’s highest court ruled that Google must, upon request, remove links to personal information that may be outdated or inaccurate. It’s a decision that has sparked fierce debate between free speech advocates and people who place a high value on personal privacy.
In Europe, the right to be forgotten – to have the traces of one’s past disappear from public view after they are no longer relevant to your current situation – is enshrined in law. The United States does not have a similar protection built into our legal system.
However, that fact may be steadily changing. Courts have ruled that minors must be afforded the opportunity to delete their own social media postings and profiles. Pending legislation banning ‘revenge porn’ would permit people to have intimate images of themselves removed from websites, even if they are not the owners of the images. The door to sweeping legal change cracks open slowly, but once it’s open, it’s very hard to shut it again.
What does this mean to your business?
Right now, unless you’re engaged in trade in the European Union, probably not a whole lot. If you are, be aware that going forward, the information you discover via a Google search to research the background of a potential employee, investor, supplier, or partner may not be as complete as it formerly was.
This ruling doesn’t remove the information from the public record or even from the internet – it merely prevents Google from linking to it. You will still be able to access this information, but you may need to work harder to do so. It is a reasonable expectation that we will see services designed to provide the information scrubbed from Google to interested parties for a price; if this is relevant to you, you’ll want to factor that information into your future cost projections.
For business owners who are entirely domestically based, expect change to happen at a much slower pace. The structure of the law here is tilted in the favor of the publisher – in this case, Google – rather than the subject of the story being published. This is a mixed blessing, as you have probably already experienced.
While you have the ability to find out a lot about potential employees, vendors, and so on relatively easily through a Google search, you’re also still vulnerable to the impact of a negative review someone posted about your business a decade ago. The laws that will evolve to protect the business community from the disproportionate impact of old, negative commentary will undoubtedly cause some inconveniences as well. We may not have a right to be forgotten yet – but the day will come when the public has a greater say in what stories are told about them.