Individuals can ask Google to remove links to news articles, court judgments and other documents in search results for their name, the European Union's highest court has ruled. The surprise decision could significantly disrupt how Google and other search-engine operators work across Europe.
The ruling will of course also affect other search engines, and Yahoo has said it is actively reviewing the decision and the repercussions it may have to its business.
A Yahoo spokeswoman told The Drum: "Since our founding almost twenty years ago, we’ve supported an open and free internet; not one shaded by censorship. We’re now carefully reviewing the European Court of Justice’s decision to assess the impact for our business and for our users.”
The Drum spoke to a mix of senior marketers at brands and agencies and ad industry body ISBA on what the rulings may signal for the future of search, online publishing and brands.
DigitasLbi, head of media innovation, Andrew Girdwood
I’m alarmed by the European Court of Justice’s ruling. The content in question was on La Vanguardia’s website and not on Google. Google simply linked to the pages in search results. What would the ruling have been if Facebook updates or Tweets had linked to La Vanguardia’s content? Would the social networks be forced to delete those user generated links? The judge accepted the original content had been published lawfully as well. Review sites, political campaigns, search engines, social networks, forums, newspapers and countless others may be hit by this technophobic ruling. It is a negative to operations and traffic. Would the ruling have been the same if Google’s search results had been paid for ads? If one European was paying to highlight legally published content would the Court of Justice prohibited it? Frankly, I hope we never have to find out.
Sam Diamond, head of brand and comms, Gumtree
The ‘right to be forgotten’ has been a tricky issue for the courts to try and resolve. There is so much worthless information on individuals on the internet that Google is now in an impossible situation. Each lonely request it receives will add salt to the wound, and the work will be painstaking, laborious and no doubt, frustrating. It serves as a reminder to marketers to treat their customer’s information with great respect, and that structural changes to privacy laws can upend their business at any time.
Oscar Romero, head of search strategy and product, Starcom Mediavest
Whilst the recent ruling on the ‘right to be forgotten’ is a matter that mainly affects individuals who wish to have unfavourable information about them removed from the internet, it has potential ramifications on online marketers and could change search as we know it. As we all know a large proportion of searches contain research based keywords and I would imagine a strong revenue stream for Google. By forcing Google to remove unfavourable information on sites there is a strong possibility that users will no longer see the search engine as a data neutral place to conduct their research which in turn may lead to a drop in the demand for research type search queries and consequently a potential loss in revenue for Google. The “right to be forgotten” ruling could be seen as a big win for businesses who may have historically struggled with a poor public image or wish to remove negative past feedback related to the their products and services. This situation opens up the ability to attract users who may have been put off by brands that have negative press and in turn drive new customers to the business. Businesses may also be able to use the ruling as a lever to positively manage their online brand reputation. The challenge that search engines will face if group, organisations, businesses go down this route is that search will lose its role as a medium to find impartial information.At the same time, the right to remove your digital footprint from the Search engine index could have a big impact to the search engine giant whose index is mainly powered by their algorithm. Google will be forced to resource against this activity, and those new "editors" will have to manually maintain their index. This new team of content policy editors will have to be highly trained to establish if the data should be removed from the index or not, and consider every petition against the local laws of 28 European countries. It’s important to bear in mind that Google is collecting the data which was initially hosted elsewhere, so with the new ruling Google could become the digital referee of your personal data which is a very challenging position since they will have to balance individual’s privacy rights with freedom of speech.
Ian Twinn, director of Public Affairs, ISBA
The ruling of course speaks to serious concerns over the protection of individual privacy. However, the reality is that implementing a 'right to be forgotten' on request is implausible, impractical and incredibly - possibly prohibitively - costly. Reding has rubber stamped an empty promise that plays to the audience, but not, I'm afraid, reality.
MediaCom iLab, board director - digital operations, Rob Weatherhead
Regardless of the implications for Google, this case hinges on a couple of definitions and creates a real issue for governance of information moving forward.Aside from user consent, the right to be forgotten comes into play when information is no longer necessary, relevant or legitimate. And it is the definition and interpretation of these three words which make enforcement and governance difficult. Who defines when something stops being relevant? And who decides whether something is legitimate?In terms of implications for publishers, interestingly the ruling doesn’t require the publication to remove the piece about Mr Gonzalez, just that Google remove links to it from its search results. Indeed when the original ‘Right to be Forgotten’ was initially proposed it was made clear there were limits to what could be done. "The archives of a newspaper are a good example. It is clear that the right to be forgotten cannot amount to a right of the total erasure of history," stated Viviane Reading, Justice Commissioner, upon announcing the plans. So the content exists, search engines just have to remove the reference to it. This seems a little unfair given all they are doing is presenting information others are publishing.As for the implications for search, whilst I don’t expect widespread removal of information following this case it does present a worrying future for search marketing in its current form. In a future where informational search are censored and do not contain all the available information, how much can you trust about the results presented to you? How do you know when you are seeing the full picture or a censored version of reality?
Chris Whitelaw, CEO, iProspect
The ruling raises more questions than it answers. It is unclear whether the ruling will extend to brands and whether they will now be able to more actively manage their reputations online. Advertising investment should not be affected. Google must now weigh what is in the public interest as legitimate content and what is in the individual’s perceived interest of privacy – very hard for an algorithm to do.
Jon Myers, VP & managing director, EMEA, Marin Software.
The impact of this ruling on advertisers with Google campaigns is minimal. There will be little, if no change in their key product or brand search results. If anything the outcome is a positive, because now they may not have to employ a reputation management firm when they have negative results on search pages for individuals within the company. However, there are still big questions and very few answers about what warrants removal, and I think a lot of work needs to be done here before the real impact will be known. What the ruling does do is bolster the credibility of the search engine marketing industry. In the eyes of European law, search engine marketing is now an industry which is worthy of it's whole own legislation separate from more traditional publishing. Not bad for an industry that was only born 15-20 years ago.