The European Union Court of Justice recently ruled that people can ask Google and other search engines to delete or edit results. The specifics of the case that made it to the European high court stem from a Spanish man whose search results showed that his house had been repossessed.
Right now it is a European ruling only. However, it does impact American companies doing business in Europe. Google has said the ruling is “disappointing for search engines and online publishers in general.”
The court said that the results generated from a search on a person’s name is their personal profile. The big leap that the European court made was that individuals should have some level of control or editing rights on what a search profile reveals.
The result: The digital space will never be the same. For better or worse, search results give a snapshot of all data. The neutrality of those results is now going to be called into question.
This ruling is only for individuals and only in Europe. However, this editing of your search profile could easily expand.
There are three reasons marketers should pay close attention to how this unfolds:
1. Brands are led by people. The leader of a brand is often times a very public individual. Search results for these leaders may not always be favorable or in the best interests of the brand. Don’t like the results? The results don’t match the brand image that you want to portray? Well, maybe we can edit that.
The CEO or CMO are the faces of the company. Their personal reputations are often directly linked to the profile of the company. Corporate communications of all kinds leverage the figure head’s private persona to reflect the public profile of the company.
In some circumstances, companies/brands wish desperately to distance themselves from the private action of their leaders.
One of the many powerful aspects of search is the democratization of information. It is one of the great powers of the internet. It is the social collective of all data – good and bad. To put a timely point on it: L.A. Clippers.
2. Editing a brand’s history.How far are we from being able to edit a brand’s history? Just like the man in Spain who didn’t like seeing the search results that his house was repossessed, what if the CMO doesn’t like seeing the results about that failed campaign or recall that happened before his/her tenure?
This editing ability will quickly bump up against free speech. If brands are one day allowed to edit their search profiles, it may also get the attention of consumer advocacy groups.
3. Changing how consumers shop. Consumer reviews about a brand are one of the biggest influencers to purchase. We all make decisions by reading the reviews of complete strangers. Did they like the food, the product, the customer service, the experience? For every type of product or service, we turn to our fellow internet users to help us make decisions.
If/when brands have the ability to edit their search-engine results, shopping behavior and use of the web for doing product research may change dramatically. If every product or service you look at has a five star rating, why bother? The prompt, “others like you recommend” wouldn’t be very relevant, would it?
While this is currently a European-only ruling, it still is called the world-wide-web. With everything we see on the web, it is hard to imagine that people have been holding back in fear of what might pop up on their search results. However, with this editing power, the web could become a very scrubbed and sanitized place.
Even comments on blog posts could be edited. While the privacy of individual world citizens may be at stake, so is the rest of the world’s access to important information.