Last May, Europe's highest court created a “right to be forgotten,” which enables people to exert more control over the type of information that's displayed about them by search engines.
The concept might mark an attempt to address the genuine concern that people shouldn't be dogged forever by embarrassing events from their past, but the implementation has been a “complete disaster.” That's according to Boston College law professor Mary-Rose Papandrea.
“I don't think it works in Europe,” she said Wednesday morning, speaking at a conference hosted by the legal blog Above the Law. “It's a very poor solution for an admittedly real problem.”
The ruling itself, issued by European Union's Court of Justice, paved the way for people to ask Google (and other search companies) to purge links to embarrassing news articles or other information they want hidden from view. Google doesn't have to automatically honor those requests. Instead, the company is supposed to weigh people's rights to privacy against the public interest in the information.
The EU's decision also doesn't require news organizations to also remove their archives, so the underlying articles often remain available online regardless of Google's decision.
Papandrea added that one problem with the right to be forgotten is that it discounts free-speech principles by forcing search engines to censor truthful information while also making it harder for readers to find and access the material.
What's more, she said, the ruling puts private, for-profit companies like Google in the position of making decisions about public policy issues. If Google (or other search engines) refuse to take down content, the people who made the request can appeal. But the news organizations that published the original story -- and no longer receive traffic from search engines -- have no recourse.
Since May, Google has evaluated requests to remove almost 840,000 URLs from its search results. The company has granted around 41% of the requests.