Seeking to expand recognition of the Right to be Forgotten to the United States, a consumer group has filed a petition with the Federal Trade Commission (the “FTC”) requesting that Google be required to remove links upon request.
Last year, the European Court of Justice ordered Google to remove links about the financial history of a Spanish attorney, finding that the links to stories about his debts were “inadequate, irrelevant or no longer relevant, or excessive,” establishing the Right to be Forgotten (“RTBF”). Over the last 12 months, Google has received 274,462 removal requests and evaluated 997,008 URLs for removal from its search results.
Consumer Watchdog listed several examples of U.S. citizens who have been harmed without the RTBF in this country, ranging from a guidance counselor who was fired after photos of her as a lingerie model from 20 years prior surfaced online to a woman whose mug shot appeared online after she was arrested defending herself against an abusive boyfriend. The group also told the FTC that Google already removes certain types of links from search results in this country (such as revenge porn), meaning it has the capability to remove other links as well.
“As clearly demonstrated by its willingness to remove links to certain information when requested in the United States, Google could easily offer the RTBF or the Right To Relevancy request option to Americans,” Consumer Watchdog wrote. “It unfairly and deceptively opts not to do so.”
The RTBF doesn’t implicate First Amendment concerns or constitute censorship, the group said, because the content remains on the Internet. The right “simply allows a person to request that links from their name to data that is inadequate, irrelevant, no longer relevant, or excessive be removed from search results,” according to the petition. “Americans deserve the same ability to make such a privacy-protecting request and have it honored.”
Further, the right isn’t automatic. “Removal won’t always happen, but the balance Google has found between privacy and the public’s right to know demonstrates Google can make the RTBF or Right To Relevancy work in the United States,” Consumer Watchdog concluded.
Meanwhile, the issue of expanding the RTBF has also come up in Europe. In July, a French regulatory authority ordered Google to remove all the links from its search pages including Google.com in the U.S. – not just the European pages. Google refused to comply and filed an appeal of the order. “We believe that no one country should have the authority to control what content someone in a second country can access,” Google’s global privacy counsel Peter Fleischer wrote on the company’s blog.
Read Consumer Watchdog’s petition to the FTC.