I’m certainly not qualified to work through the constitutionality of any proposed legislation, or legal judgment, that might seek to uphold privacy rights to the extreme of making it a publisher’s job to hide publicly-available information at an individual’s request, even in North America, let alone Europe.
But a little common sense, please. Search engines aren’t perfect, but if we search diligently using the right queries, they remain an oasis of transparency in a world of manipulated communications. This is precisely why you have to buy advertising if you want to direct search engine users to a commercial message they might be interested in, for example. If you didn’t have that separation between church and state, search engines would become a blizzard of commercial messages, and would become, for all intents and purposes, useless to anyone seeking anything other than spam (which is precisely no one).
And now we’re supposed to throw into the hopper shiny happy re-spun personas for convicted pedophiles and various rabble trying to shake off vehicular manslaughter charges?
You don’t even have to go to extreme examples like these to get a sense of how useful search engines can be to us in protecting ourselves against bad partners and bad decisions.
Here’s one search I did: Three years ago, we nearly leased office space in Liberty Village. It was half of a unique, standalone building. It was a lot of space for the money and some interesting features like a rooftop terrace. Then I Googled the landlord. Not really a professional property management company. OK, but that means the individual should at least be reliable. Turns out that wasn’t the case. He’d had one of the messiest divorces in human history, it seemed, with the court wrangling over dividing the assets taking something like twelve years. After the court decision, of course, he refused to pay much of what was owing. So he was issued a court order to pay. Ignoring a court order, after a certain length of time, can land you in jail. A second and third court order were issued. In the third hearing, the judge was fairly yelling at this man and his legal counsel that a third court order is not a matter you can debate, they were two years and two court orders past the point of any appeals or even semantic arguments in the courtroom, and that he could have been jailed two court orders ago. Overall, the record painted the picture of a vindictive, petty jerk. And certainly, one who could never be trusted to honor any legal document.
So we lucked out there. We found different office space. All thanks to the search engine.
The status quo is that a search engine and publicly-available information became this man’s problem. Imagine flipping that so that this individual, and hundreds of thousands like him, become Google’s problem. Hell, even Google’s largest advertisers don’t get that kind of red carpet treatment.
Search engines aren’t perfect, but they provide a vital counterbalance to spun information and shady dealings. In that regard, they play a role similar to the role that has always been occupied by the (also flawed, but vital) free press.
The European court is wrong on this one. It has to be.