US consumer group asks Google to import Europe's right to be forgotten

Is this the beginning of right to be forgotten headaches for Google in the US?
Written by Liam Tung, Contributing Writer

Consumer rights group Consumer Watchdog has asked Google to voluntarily offer Americans the same right Europeans' now have to ask for certain links to be removed from the results of searches about them.

Weeks after wrapping up a European tour to discuss concerns over the recent right to be forgotten ruling from the EU's top court, Google chairman Eric Schmidt is facing calls from Consumer Watchdog to extend the same rights to Americans.

"Google is clearly making the Right To Be Forgotten work for its users in Europe, but that is because you must under the law. We call on you to voluntarily offer the same right to Google users in the United States," wrote John M. Simpson, Consumer Watchdog privacy project director, in an open letter this week to Schmidt and Google CEO Larry Page. 

It's no secret that Google isn't happy about Europe's highest court deciding in May that individuals have right to request links be removed in search results if they lead to outdated, excessive or irrelevant material. Schmidt believes the decision didn't give enough weight to the public's 'right to know'. It's also left the company in the unenviable position of deciding which requests to grant and which to deny itself — a task that some believe should be made by a court.

Since May, 145,000 Europeans have made a request for Google to remove links to some 500,000 URLs.

While Europe's right to be forgotten might seem to jar with US values, Consumer Watchdog points to a recent survey of 500 Americans by the security firm Software Advice, which found that 61 percent of those surveyed believe some version of the right to be forgotten is necessary.

The survey tapped into questions raised by legislation set to come in effect in California in 2015 which, among other things, will allow minors to request that websites remove content or information they have posted previously.

According to the survey, 39 percent of respondents wanted the right to be forgotten available to all citizens, while a further 21 percent wanted the right to be limited to minors. On top, 47 percent were concerned that "irrelevant" search results can harm a person's reputation.

Making his case for Google to extend the right to be forgotten, Consumer Watchdog's Simpson points out that: "Before the Internet if I did something foolish when I was young and foolish — and I probably did — there might well be a public record of what happened. Over time, as I aged, people tended to forget whatever embarrassing things I did in my youth. I would be judged mostly based on my current circumstances, not on information no longer relevant. If someone were highly motivated, they could go back into paper files and folders and dig up my past."

"The Digital Age has ended that. Everything — all my digital footprints — is instantly available with a few clicks on a computer or taps on a mobile device."

Schmidt seems to have pondered the question before too, telling the Wall Street Journal in 2010: "I don't believe society understands what happens when everything is available, knowable and recorded by everyone all the time."

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