The Spanish Data Protection Authority is treating Google not as an “intermediary” but as a “publisher” under Spanish law. That brings with it numerous burdens and obligations that potentially create a massive legal and privacy headache for Google. A similar thing happened recently in Italy where YouTube is now being classified and treated as a conventional TV broadcaster.
What’s at stake, simply put, is legal responsibility for whatever appears in Google search results — in other words the entire internet. This is much like a newspaper or magazine that bears legal responsibility for what shows up in its pages. In one of several Spanish cases Google is being asked to remove more than 100 newspaper articles that are allegedly libelous, although it’s not clear if libel has actually been proven rather than merely claimed.
A Bloomberg article, which contains some ambiguity, suggests that if Google’s appeals fail in Spain potentially anyone who doesn’t like something about them on the internet (in Google’s index) can potentially ask Google to remove it. Here’s the relevant paragraph:
The Spanish agency has ruled in 90 matters connected to Google after requests by citizens on data protection grounds, said an official at the body, who declined to be named in line with policy. They include publication of notices of debts, details on the victims of domestic violence, and sanctions imposed on officials that may affect their safety, he said.
If anyone can simply make a request that some piece of information about him or herself be removed it would represent a radical change for Spain and for Google, but also Bing, Yahoo and others. The article also suggests that the Spanish Data Protection body would be the arbiter of these decisions and Google would have little recourse but to comply. While it’s important to protect privacy what Spain is potentially creating is a scenario of censorship, unless the burden for removal were set relatively high for the requesting parties.
In the larger context of the range of actions, claims and investigations going on against Google throughout Europe one might be inclined to believe that there was a conspiracy or coordinated assault taking place.
- European Google Antitrust Questionnaire Revealed
- Google Says “Ciao” To Antitrust Claim In Italy
- Spanish Want Google To Police Libel On The Internet
- Italy To Regulate YouTube & Other Video Sites Like TV Stations
- German Govt. Says Google Analytics Now Verboten
- EU Minister: Google Street View Controversy Shows Need For Uniform Privacy Standards In Europe