Sunday, May 18, 2014

Google and the EU: The Right to be Forgotten

So there was an EU court ruling recently, in which google lost an appeal to remove links to someone's information which was deemed to be "out of date". Without getting into the specifics of the case or the ruling (both of which were dumb), the aftermath raises a few interesting points. Among them: how should google comply with the ruling, and what should google do to prepare for similar future rulings in other jurisdictions. One publication, for example, suggested that google should modify its core search algorithm to generate results which were more compliant with the EU court rulings. I think that idea is absurd and unworkable, and I have a better idea for them.

See, one of the problems google faces with complying with this ruling is the verification issue. Not only is verification of "outdated" data time consuming and expensive, but its also highly subjective. However, since fines in the EU can run as high as 5% of gross revenue per day, non-compliance is not an option. Google needs to do something to comply, without getting dragged into an expensive and potentially litigious process of manually handling and adjudicating every censorship request. That strongly suggests an automated process.

I suggest the following solution. First, establish (if not already in place) an EU portal, through which all visitors from the EU will be directed (allowing easy bypass is optional, depending on legal requirements). Then, establish a portal by which anyone can request any link be removed, with no verification whatsoever. Since google does not have a legal obligation to provide links to all sites, this would be fine legally-speaking, and sidestep the whole adjudication process. Then, for the EU portal, show the normal search results, with all censored links removed.

Benefits? Well, there are several. First, it would achieve easy compliance with the existing ruling, with virtually no overhead. Second, it would allow compliance with future rulings, no matter how absurd. Third, google could comply with similar rulings in other jurisdictions, with similar area-specific portals. Forth, if legally permitted, it would be trivial to allow users to bypass the filters, by simply accessing the US (and/or non-filtered) version of the search results. Fifth, it would be trivial to reverse, as necessary. Oh, and I guess you could also be "forgotten" online in the EU, kinda, if you considered that a benefit.

Drawbacks? Well, obviously it would be ripe for abuse, and you'd expect to see quite a bit of unfounded and/or malicious takedowns of links, until the EU portal was a very strange subset of the internet as a whole. However, I'm not sure I'd qualify that as a strict drawback, since the more absurd the result would become, the more absurd the original ruling would appear, which might be a positive in the longer run. Moreover, it could motivate people to standardize more methodologies to bypass area and nationality based restrictions on internet content, which would be good for freedom of information worldwide. Really, then, any drawbacks would likely be only short term, or balanced out by positives.

Anyway, that's how I think google should approach this ruling, for what its worth.

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