Reputation And The “Right To Be Forgotten”: Spain’s Radical Approach To Search And Personal Privacy

Call it “privacy 2.0.” Last year Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg famously (and incorrectly) said that privacy is no longer a social norm. However one has only to witness the uproar this week over Facebook Messenger and the exposure of phone contacts to see that privacy isn’t dead. In Europe — Spain in particular — privacy is not only not fading away it’s making new inroads against competing interests.

Earlier this year in March we wrote about a new principle being developed in Spain and Europe: “the right to be forgotten.” Specifically a Spanish court is asking Google to remove data about roughly 90 private individuals from its index. For various reasons these people have filed complaints with the Spanish Data Protection Agency asking that information about them be extracted from the index.

Google is fighting the case and these requests; their implications are quite sweeping.

The government of Spain backs the notion of a right to be forgotten. There are also pan-European regulations, along the same lines, that will be introduced later this year according to an article in the New York Times. Quoting Georgetown law professor Franz Werro, the piece discusses how privacy law is going in very different directions in Europe and the US:

[I]n the United States, Mr. Werro said, courts have consistently found that the right to publish the truth about someone’s past supersedes any right to privacy. Europeans, he said, see things differently: “In Europe you don’t have the right to say anything about anybody, even if it is true.”

Also cited in the article are the results of an EU poll that shows most Europeans support the concept of a “right to be forgotten”:

Three out of four [Europeans] said they were worried about how Internet companies used their information and wanted the right to delete personal data at any time. Ninety percent wanted the European Union to take action on the right to be forgotten.

Google’s global privacy counsel Peter Fleischer has blogged at length about why he believes a “right to be forgotten” is misguided. Typically the disputed information is contained in third party sites and publications (e.g., newspaper articles, Wikipedia). Do individuals then have the right to pull those publications’ pages down? What process would balance those competing interests?

I suspect the regulatory and procedural challenges surrounding implementation of a right to be forgotten won’t change any minds in Europe. Spanish and European regulators will likely require removal of personal information from search indexes after some yet-to-be-defined process. We’ll see exactly what that looks like later this year, after the Spanish case proceeds to conclusion and the EU introduces the intended rules.

It’s a safe bet, however, that while privacy remains a strong concern of Americans, even teens and young adults, nothing like a right to be forgotten will make its way over here, given the current state of First Amendment law.

Stock image from Shutterstock, used under license.

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Related Topics: Channel: Industry | Features: Analysis | Google: Critics | Google: Legal | Google: Outside US | Legal: Privacy | Legal: Regulation


About The Author: is a Contributing Editor at Search Engine Land. He writes a personal blog Screenwerk, about SoLoMo issues and connecting the dots between online and offline. He also posts at Internet2Go, which is focused on the mobile Internet. Follow him @gsterling.

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  • Maurice Walshe

    MM yes there’s a lot of “forgetting” going on in Spain. So what actually is being removed i could see allegations that signore X knows where the bodies are buried being one example – and in this case I mean that figuratively Enderly phalagists trying to avoid what they did decades ago comes to mind here.

      And i think Mr. Werro is some what misguided about how European law and the Eu interact (some what worrying for a law professor)

    “In Europe you don’t have the right to say anything about anybody, even if it is true.”

    There is no european law just EU directives that individual countries pass laws to enforce. And in some cases just flagrantly ignore if they don’t like it or its upsets a powerfull lobby (Italy and france are a major offenders)

  • Chris Bell

    Privacy is a big issue, and firms that don’t make privacy part of the customer conversation, I feel, can ultimately loose sales if customers feel that they can’t do business with appropriate levels of privacy. If their information isn’t secure, they’ll go offline to do their business and that won’t be good for anyone. Good marketers understand the differing business conditions in other countries,and try to shed their own cultural biases and preconceptions. While Spain may be reacting extremely to this issue, it comes from a legitimate place.

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