Earlier this week we talked about the crucial importance of a secure website in today’s digital world, where Web users are becoming increasingly concerned about protecting the privacy of their sensitive personal information.
Google is currently entangled in a rather tricky battle on that front, and it is only likely to get messier. The outcome could drastically affect the entire search engine landscape.
Concerns have been building among internet users for some time over the lack of control that citizens have when it comes to having their names and likenesses appear in Google search results. Presently, there is no real avenue for a person to successfully request the removal of such links.
Consumer Watchdog, an advocacy group, is now attempting to take action on the “right to be forgotten,” filing a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission to force Google’s hand. As Bill McColl of Yahoo notes, there is already such a law in place in Europe, where 41.3 percent of all requests for link removal have been granted by Google.
The complaint from Consumer Watchdog, which you can view in PDF form here, includes the following:
Google’s anti-consumer behavior around privacy issues is deceptive. The Internet giant holds itself out to be committed to users’ privacy, but does not honor requests that provide a key privacy protection.
Not offering Americans a basic privacy tool, while providing it to millions of users across Europe, is also an unfair practice. Acts or practices by a business are unfair under Section 5 of the Federal Trade Commission Act if they cause or are likely to cause substantial injury to consumers that consumers cannot reasonably avoid themselves and that is not outweighed by countervailing benefits to consumers or competition.
But this is a sticky issue. The United States is of course the land of freedom, and one of Google’s guiding principles is the promise of open access to all information, without censorship. When individuals are empowered to alter search results, that’s a slippery slope with the potential to set dangerous precedents.
Michael Santoli, a senior finance columnist at Yahoo, explains the other side of the issue:
“From Google’s perspective, they want to have all available information for their users,” he notes. “Their real ethos is we’ll let the algorithm decide what’s important and what’s not. If it’s legitimate information, they’re going to keep it there unless there’s a compelling reason not to.”
Santoli adds that an FTC motion is probably not the best route for Consumer Watchdog to take if they want to change Google’s policy, noting that it’s likely a matter for the courts to decide. That could very well be the next step, and while Santoli opines that nothing is imminent, this is definitely a storyline that is worth tracking.