Google Adds ‘Forget Me’ Option, But Only In Europe

Image via Flickr/ Dan Pupius

The Internet may not be the indelible work that its reputation promises, and Google, its gatekeeper, may not be as committed to permanence as it appeared in the past. A recent court case has given Europeans the right to make the search giant forget about them, though it doesn’t seem that the option will be crossing the Atlantic any time soon.

According to the case, which was brought to the European Court of Human Rights by a Spanish citizen, outdated or irrelevant information must be removed by Google  if a user requests that it do so. The case may be a landmark one for the way that Web companies operate in Europe, and it may create a wider gap between privacy on that continent and privacy in the United States.

Google Must Forget About Users

The European court found that users have the right to make Google remove links, particularly if the user in question is not a public figure. Google will then make a decision based “on the nature of the information in question and its sensitivity for the data subject’s private life and on the interest of the public in having that information, an interest which may vary.”

Google will be forced to remove the data “unless there are particular reasons, such as the role played by the data subject in public life, justifying a preponderant interest of the public in having access to the information when such a search is made.” The argument that the Mountain View company does not control data but merely links to it was not taken as particularly compelling by the court.

Where the line between public and private individuals eventually falls is yet to be decided, but it’s clear that those looking for an end to the tyranny of old MySpace links have a better chance in Europe than they do in the United States.

Privacy Is A Google Problem

One of the most important parts of this case is the assertion by the court that Google ultimately has control over the personal data it links to. The company prefers to remain in a grey area where it’s collection and collation of Web links does not correspond to any kind of control.

Now that the European Court of Human Rights has disagreed with that opinion of the service Google offers, that continent’s legal minds are likely to regard Google in the same light. That means that the company is now in charge of the information that appears in its search links, and it can no longer claim the passivity of a simple link-basket.

Privacy concerns are a problem that Google has managed to provide for a long time, and the company’s future may be harangued by difficulties in that area.

It seems that US courts are less willing to force the company to deal with those problems, however, and that means that the service is unlikely to ever be tailored toward the protection of privacy. Instead the company remains the sole keeper of a record many wish didn’t exist.