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Blog: Should Search Engines be Responsible for Personal Information on the Internet?

by Spencer Mead, Associate Staff

Should Search Engines be Responsible for Personal Information on the Internet?

 

            Advances in technology and the Internet have revolutionized how human beings interact. 20 years ago, embarrassing moments were rarely caught on camera. However, those recorded gems started one of the most popular television shows in recent history, America’s Funniest Home Videos. People knew that their embarrassing moments had a possibility of making it on TV to be viewed by hundreds of thousands of Americans. Thankfully, video recorders were fairly large and recognizable so people generally knew when they were being recorded.

 

Fast forward to today. The widespread availability of the Internet, vast improvements in video recording capabilities, the advent of YouTube, and the explosion of smart phone usage allows videos to be recorded at any time, without someone being aware they are being recorded, and accessible to the entire world in a matter of minutes. Now, an embarrassing moment can be seen by millions in a few weeks’ time. There are even TV shows that get all of their material strictly from YouTube. Information spreads so quickly across the internet that it can be almost impossible to fully remove something from the public realm. But what if you want one of your embarrassing or personal moments, that should not have been placed in the public realm to begin with, wiped from the Internet for good? Is it even possible to do?

 

Internet Search Engines, such as Google, are extremely complex and modifying the search algorithm is not easily done. Therefore, making it difficult to permanently remove items from the search engine’s databases. However, most Internet search engines have mechanisms in place to remove unwanted items from their search results.[1] But this does not mean the information is actually removed from the search engine. People can still find this information. Sometimes just changing the search terms is all it takes to find the information through a different search on the same search engine.

 

One man thinks the solution is permanently altering the search engines to remove the information from their databases.[2] However, this raises several public policy concerns. This would be a very expensive process, and it might not be economically feasible for search engines to accomplish this without the services offered to the public suffering. Also, it raises concerns about free speech under the First Amendment. Where should the line be drawn between the public having full access to as much information as possible and protecting an individual’s private rights? A French Court will decide where this balance lies on October 12.[3]

 

This ruling might not be on U.S. soil, but it raises many concerns that could have worldwide implications. If Syria does not like all the negative press it is receiving, should it be able to force Google to remove the articles from its database? Should only individuals have the ability to make such a request? Should the First Amendment right to freedom of speech trump all requests for personal information to be removed? The answer is not known, but we as Americans need to be aware of these concerns to make sure the right balance is struck.




[1] Remove a Page or Site from Google’s Search Results, Google, https://support.google.com/webmasters/answer/164734?hl=en (last visited Sept. 8, 2013).

[2] Google in Fight Over Content That Appears in Search Results, The New York Times, http://www.nytimes.com/2013/09/09/technology/google-in-fight-over-content-that-appears-in-search-results.html?ref=technology (last visited Sept. 8, 2013).

[3] Id.

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