Advertisers Say 'Right To Be Forgotten' Conflicts With Free Speech

The Association of National Advertisers is urging the Federal Trade Commission to reject a "misguided" effort to create a "right to be forgotten" in the United States.

"Allowing the Right to Be Forgotten in the United States would cause serious and undue harm to the public’s right to determine for itself what is important and relevant information," the ANA says in a letter to the FTC. "It would force search companies to edit the past under the supervision of federal regulators. This runs contrary to consumers’ interests."

The advertisers are responding to a complaint filed several weeks ago by Consumer Watchdog, which wants the FTC to require that Google consider honoring U.S. residents' requests to remove links to embarrassing or hurtful material.

Last year, the highest court in the EU ruled that Europeans have the "right to be forgotten" by search engines. That ruling empowers EU residents to ask Google (and other search engines) to remove links to news articles, social media posts, and other material, but doesn't require search engines to automatically grant those requests. Instead, search engines are tasked with weighing people's rights to privacy against the public interest in the information.

Consumer Watchdog says that Google should also follow that procedure in the U.S. The organization, a frequent Google critic, argues that the company deceives consumers by stating that it's committed to privacy, but failing to honor requests to delete information about users.

The ANA disagrees with that logic. "There is no precedent for compelling companies to import expansive privacy policies that are not already part of their terms of service," the organization says. "The fact that a company generally has privacy protections does not provide carte blanche to impose regulations on [Consumer Watchdog's] wish list."

The advertisers also note any governmental effort to limit Google's ability to post truthful information would conflict with free speech principles -- which are stronger in the U.S. than in Europe.

"Certain regulations acceptable under European law would be plainly unconstitutional if applied in the United States. The so-called “Right to Be Forgotten” is one such policy," the ANA says.

ANA executive vice president for government relations Dan Jaffe tells MediaPost the organization is weighing in due to concerns about a "growing effort to try to export policies that are European-based to the United States."

Jaffe adds that one area concern centers on EU's broad privacy standards -- which already are having an impact on companies that do business in Europe. For instance, the so-called "cookie directive" requires companies to obtain consumers' consent before deploying certain types of tracking cookies. Just this week, Google introduced a new policy requiring that AdSense publishers with visitors from the EU ask them for permission before using their data.

Consumer Watchdog's John Simpson says his organization stands by its complaint. "All we're asking the FTC to do is tell Google to run a search engine in a responsible way," he says.  

The ANA's letter to the FTC comes one day after Google rejected a demand by EU privacy regulators to broaden the right to be forgotten by censoring results worldwide.

"We believe that no one country should have the authority to control what content someone in a second country can access," global privacy counsel Peter Fleischer wrote on the company's blog.

He added that allowing one country to censor the Web internationally would result in a "race to the bottom."

"In the end, the Internet would only be as free as the world’s least free place," he said.

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