Google Right to be Forgotten…but what about business data?

20 August, 2014 · 2 minutes to read

Google forget

Recently, the European Union Court of Justice (ECJ) passed new legislation that allows for data to be removed from Google that is deemed "inaccurate, inadequate, irrelevant or excessive". Google is the leading search engine used within the EU and as such this legislation means Google have been handed the responsibility of curating the dissemination of information, information which in the main they do not own or control.

So Google get to decide, based on some rules, what data is to be "forgotten". So what does this mean for businesses and their data?

Google have a defined process in place to handle removal requests. This process is only applicable to residents within the European Union, which means that, for example users in the USA would be able to still see the link that has been removed by a request within the EU.

The "Right to be forgotten" process

  • Request received with the link and the reason for the removal request.
  • Request considered on an "each case" basis.
  • Google approve or reject the request.
  • If approved the author/source of the offending material notified.
  • Search engine entry will be removed from Google

The link will still exist in the Google index and of course the content will remain but it will not be indexed on the regional Google search results - so only somebody dedicated to finding the content will be successful.

Inaccurate, inadequate, irrelevant or excessive - who decides?

One key question is who actually has sufficient authority to deem what is really irrelevant? Google? The legislation, as it stands, is very open-ended and is could be seen as a quick route to online censorship. The Index on Censorship said removing results from search engines was "akin to marching into a library and forcing it to pulp books".

How does this affect business data?

Business data, by definition is information, raw or unorganised data that refers to conditions, ideas or objects. If a business uses their data as a sales tool but their methods are deemed 'excessive' by Google, that business might fall foul of the new legislation and lose out. Not sure its Google's job to judge other businesses in a way that could detrimentally affect them.

As a business, surely it is up to the individuals that govern that business to decide what is irrelevant and what is not?

Another potential problem with the legislation is that if business A is looking to trade with business B they are likely to do some background checks. If business B have had financial issues that have been "forgotten" via an approved "right to be forgotten request" then business A will have a lot more work to do to find out if they are a good company to work with or not.

Problems & loopholes

Although the legislation is in place and Google are actively responding to requests there are some pretty big problems that need to be overcome

  • The link will only be de-indexed in the member state it applies to i.e. might be removed from google.co.uk but will still appear on google.com.
  • The de-indexing only applies to Google - the link may still appear on Yahoo<
  • The information may still appear at the source i.e. the website - Google cannot take down a web page or remove an image from a 3rd part server.

Conclusion

It's too early to predict the true ramifications of this new legislation for business however as we have discussed one authority having a say on what data should be removed from search results is potentially a step towards web censorship and that's probably not a great thing for business.