John Simpson, director of the Consumer Watchdog Privacy Project, says the privacy group is filing a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) this week. They are alleging that Google is in violation of the FTC Act based on their refusal to remove search engine results in the United States. You may or may not realize that citizens in the EU have what’s known as the ‘Right to be Forgotten’ which gives them the right to have Google remove search results that are directly related to them. In my opinion that amounts to censorship and should not be allowed.
The Consumer Watchdog complaint argues that while Google claims to value users privacy they are going against that message by not allowing users to remove content from search results. I would argue the opposite is true. When we force companies to remove information (whether accurate or inaccurate) from the web we are in turn censoring the content which I believe is a much bigger privacy violation than your embarrassing pics or moments in life being available via Google. Perhaps a better solution is to stop sharing those moments on sites like Facebook.
Censorship is never the answer. The EU’s ‘Right to be Forgotten’ has positive impacts on those who have negative information wiped out of Google’s search results but at what price? The information is still out there. Simply removing it from Google’s search results in a particular region doesn’t make it go away. Once information is released in public (and many times in private) it never goes away. The ‘Right to be Forgotten’ has had a negative impact on news organizations like the BBC. They decided to create a page on the BBC News site that specifically lists the articles removed from Google’s search results.
The European Union may be happy censoring the web but hopefully the United States will think better of it. You notice I said ‘hopefully’ because the U. S. is going in the same direction. I hope that those making the decisions in the United States will consider the First Amendment. The ‘Right to be Forgotten’ seems to be a clear violation of citizens right to free speech. Wikipedia founder, Jimmy Wales, agrees as he criticized the EU last year:
“It absolutely is censorship and no one serious has any doubts about that at all. As a simple test, ask yourself whether this would be possible in the U.S. without a repeal or modification of the First Amendment—it would not.”
I think Mr. Wales is absolutely right. The ‘Right to be Forgotten’ is censorship, plain and simple. It should not be forced on Google or any other company that controls access to information on the web. Next year will mark a presidential election in the United States and privacy is expected to be a major topic of debate. This kind of ‘privacy’ isn’t what we want to see the government provide it’s citizens. Just the opposite, we want a free and open Internet that doesn’t include censorship of any form. If you agree I suggest you contact the Consumer Watchdog group and let them know they missed the mark this time around. If the complaint moves forward I’m sure we’ll all have more to say on the issue.
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