Is EU's 'right to be forgotten' really the 'right to edit the truth'?

Analysts say it's doubtful the EU's ruling against Google would be repeated in the U.S.

With Europe's top court ordering Google to allow people to basically edit their online personal histories, some wonder what this will mean for finding the truth online.

However, it's doubtful the ruling will be mimicked in the U.S., according to analysts who say the European Union is tougher on issues of personal privacy.

"I don't think we have the appetite for this," said Fatemeh Khatibloo, an analyst with Forrester. "We don't have the same sort of expectations that the government will protect our privacy like they do in Europe. We just don't have the precedent for it."

Dan Olds, an analyst with The Gabriel Consulting Group, said he when he first heard about the ruling, he wondered how long it would be before it extended from individuals to businesses, and how long before privacy organizations push for a similar ruling in the U.S.

Khatibloo noted the EU has far more privacy rules than the U.S. does. She said she doesn't expect the U.S. to follow the EU's lead on this "right to be forgotten" issue.

However, several months ago, a similar right-to-be-forgotten law was passed in California, but it applies only to minors, Khatibloo said. The law give minors the right to have information or images about them removed from online sites.

Khatibloo said she doubts such a law would ever extend to adults here, especially on a federal level. "I just do not think it will happen in the U.S.," she added.

On Tuesday, the Court of Justice of the European Union ruled that people can tell Google, as well as other search engines like Microsoft's Bing or Yahoo, to delete links to their outdated information on the Internet. People, the court contends have the right to be forgotten.

People can file requests for information removal directly with the search engine. Then the company must examine the request to determine if the information in question is still relevant. If it isn't, the links to web pages containing that information must be removed, unless maintaining easy access to the information is in the best interest of the public, the court said.

The court's decision (.pdf format) overrides the opinion of the EU Advocate General, who said last year that there was no universal right to be forgotten.

Google said it was disappointed by the ruling and is still reviewing it.

"This is a disappointing ruling for search engines and online publishers in general," said a Google spokesperson in an email to Computerworld. "We are very surprised that it differs so dramatically from the Advocate General's opinion and the warnings and consequences that he spelled out. We now need to take time to analyze the implications."

Without a search engine's help, a lot of information about someone's life would be very difficult to find, and that, according to Khatibloo and Olds, means people can edit their online lives.

"It gives people the ability to delete the bad or embarrassing and keep the good," Old said. "They can create their own truth about themselves. What I don't like about this ruling is that it doesn't have anything to do with truth. It seems to only be concerned with covering up derogatory or embarrassing information."

Khatibloo called the move "pretty terrifying."

"Overall, it feels like a very short-term win of the idea of how to define privacy and give people control of their data, but it's really a loss for the open Internet," she added. "It puts the onus on the search engines to hide links or delete links. We're not holding people responsible for the content they put out there but that search engines have to deal with this real technical problem."

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