I have been enthralled with the debate raging around the European Court’s decision to make Google remove historic information from it’s search results. It’s a many sided argument and to be honest I’m not sure where I stand for now, I don’t have any skeletons (well I would say that…) and I do want clients to find my company website by using Google. On the other hand I do see why a famous person cleared of some wrong-doing would be annoyed that the big volume of coverage during the trial with it’s public mud-slinging would have considerably more visibility than the comparatively small amount of press that usually follows exoneration.

In one corner we have Mario Costeja Gonzalez in Spain who set wheels of this legal process in motion when he complained that a Google search of his name showed up articles from 16 years ago about the sale of a property that was repossessed from him to recover money he owed. He said the matter had been resolved and that it should no longer be linked to him.

In the other corner Google are saying that they only find stuff that people put on the internet and if Mr Gonzalez has an issue with that content then he needs to pursue the content creator(s) and publisher(s), not the search engines who discover it.

Like any fight there are many others around the ring cheering to ensure that their interests are represented and while it’s hard not to see some merit in the arguments of both principal protagonists I have to say that the practicalities might be a bit tricky, for example what should one do if an out of date article shows up:

> Will you click a “report this for removal” tab then expect Google to look into it for you and could they ever resource this?

> Will the plethora of other search engines also remove the problematic results or will this be an individual battle with each?

> The European Court’s ruling seems to collide head on with the First Amendment of the US Constitution so the US and other countries outside Europe may not decide to join the party. This makes it a bit of a farce because anyone looking for non Euro-screened search results could simply use the search engine of a non-conforming country. Google even tell you how to do this from the comfort of your own home, anywhere! –

Aside from the practicalities there could be unintended consequences for us all as business owners. Search Engine Optimisation is big business and companies spend large sums to have their content found. Like any business where big sums of money are involved there can be dirty work where so called Black Hat SEO techniques are employed by the less scrupulous “optimisers” to divert results. Could a competitor use the “report this for removal” tab when a search shows your business up in competition to their own? Who would determine right from wrong when these inevitable disputes arose and who would campaign for your right to appeal?

So far I’m only really sure about one aspect of this case – I think there will be fireworks – Google is truly an uncommonly powerful behemoth, undeniably in possession of the clout to take on a legislative decision that almost any other company would have to accept. I chose the image for this article because the foreground is Spain, where the debate began and the mountains in the background are Africa just a few miles distant yet a world away from any decision made by a European court.

What do you think?

Thanks for reading,

Stephen Potts

Belfast photographer and filmmaker

Leave a comment