Column: Should Google be allowed to regulate itself in Europe?

In this Nov. 2, 2015, file photo, Alphabet CEO Larry Page speaks at the Fortune Global Forum in San Francisco. Some of Alphabet's gains evaporated late Thursday, April 21, 2016, after the company announced first-quarter earnings and revenue that fell below analyst projections. (AP Photo/Jeff Chiu, File)

Oh, if the “right to be forgotten” law of 2014 applied in the United States. How the mac 'n' cheese kids of the nation would rejoice at the expunging of their shameful past online presences; a chance to start anew, online purity again.

Unfortunately for such people, this law — which upon case-by-case reviews by Google would force the online monolith to remove select search engine entries related to the person asking — is a violation of the First Amendment. Our law regards it as a disregarding of free speech, even at the expense of people who want to be exculpated from their foolish yet now permanent mistakes.

In the European Union, however, Google has reviewed over 418,000 “right to be forgotten” cases since the bill was enacted two years ago, approving fewer than half of the requests. I don’t care whether people have their way in the removal of an embarrassing video or maybe even record of a (no longer relevant) criminal conviction, but what does irk me is Google’s criteria for doing so: it’s not at all clear what its review and decision-making process is.

Yes, Google refuses to explain to European officials how its 50 or so legal employees at an office in Dublin sift through, on average, 572 requests a day and determine their worthiness of deletion from their database.

Google treads a weird, fine line in that it represents an open Internet most of us subscribe to (unless you only go on the Deep Web) and yet it is a private company; we are subject to their jurisdiction — their “terms and conditions” — when we use their services. Ninety percent of Europe’s search engine market is dominated by Google, so most Europeans can’t avoid it and incorporate it into their regular existences. Google is everywhere, and people don’t consider the potentially insidious implications of such a concept.

Contrast this with governmental regulatory bodies, who would apparently have to publish data for their findings, according to Martin Huvosec, professor at the Tilburg Institute for Law, Technology and Society in the Netherlands. By virtue of its status as a private enterprise, Google benefits from an unfair double standard, being the regulator void of regulation.

On the other hand, several European officials concede that Google’s handling of “right to be forgotten” cases is surprisingly efficient and straightforward, undoubtedly better than a government that lacks bureaucracy and technological prowess.

If every lawyer in the Dublin office handles cases, they’re deciding on up to 11 per day, which is impressive. And according to the New York Times, Google has arguably the largest commercial network of computers in the world; it seems as though the only entity fit to address the boundlessness of a Google search is, well, Google.

Furthermore, what if European governments made decisions regarding online privacy in lieu of Google? Would we be any securer? Chances are no. In either case, Europeans are forfeiting information about themselves to be reviewed by some giant authoritative body.

There’s no avoiding the notion of someone seeing what you did in the pursuit of purging negative information from the Internet, and you ran the risk by doing stupid things in an age of technology that absorbs everything like a sponge.

As people deliberate the benefits of their online lives being ostensibly protected, I think two things need to be addressed with Google: one, there should be a regulatory commission of some sort dedicated to presiding over the tech giant, making sure it does not run afoul with people’s information or demonstrate errors in judgment when determining whether it should be extricated from their database.

Two, Google should publicize its review process so people can understand why their requests get rejected. Unless people can be placated with information, they will just stay angry and confused as to why vestiges of their shameful online pasts still remain for the world to consume.


Stephen Friedland is a staff columnist for The Daily Campus opinion section. He can be reached via email at stephen.friedland@uconn.edu.