Posts Tagged ‘Google’

The right to be forgotten, but not forgiven.

July 20, 2014 Leave a comment

Just as with getting tattoos or removing them, (hint: both equally painful experiences), the furore over a recent European Court of Justice (ECJ) ruling on the “Right To Be Forgotten”, (aka #RTBF), appears to be one that will hurt regardless of which end of the ruling you support. Why is this so, what does it mean, and is it even possible to forget anything on-line?


Enough time has passed between the ECJ announcement in May and the initial stormy reactions from both mainstream and social media, that it is now possible to perceive the wood for the trees and to separate fact from fiction and fantasy.  First of all, this is about safe guarding individual rights to privacy, and providing some measure of control over the personal data processed by Internet search engines (Google in this case). It is definitely not about erasing personal data from the web, as you might have been led to believe from the initial hue and cry following the announcement.

Secondly, the ruling left it to individuals to approach the search provider and request removal of links to information which are “inadequate, irrelevant, no longer relevant or excessive” from results of searches conducted on their name. However, it is up to the search engine provider to work out if it is appropriate to remove or retain said links, in the public interest. In the latter eventuality, the individual can chose to take the search provider to court in his/her national jurisdiction.

Also, several developments have occurred since this landmark ruling was made in favour of Mr Gonzalez vs. Google Spain, including the take-up of such requests by Microsoft’s Bing search engine. However, according to an article on IP-Watch, this ruling is akin to opening Pandora’s Box because it throws up a host of challenges, such as:

  • Privacy versus free speech – the ruling effectively asks search engine providers to make a judgement call on two competing rights of free speech versus privacy. This arguably goes against the raison d’être of search engines as trusted source of comprehensive search information, and not selective parts thereof.
  • Lost in Translation – The Right to be Forgotten is now accepted as a European Principle, but it is still open to subtle differences in translation, interpretation and implementation among the various member states. Furthermore, because this ruling only applies to Europe, the removed links may still show up in other countries, unless #RTBF becomes a globally adopted principle or if the search provider decides to remove the search links globally. It is thought this differentiation could lead to fragmenting of the web in various jurisdictions.
  • #RTBF overload – Requests to remove links to personal information hit over 70,000 within the first few months of the ruling, which undoubtedly placed some burden on Google (and likely do so eventually for other major on-line players such as Facebook), but perhaps more importantly this also provides an indication of the sort of personal information that people wish to delete (see related article about removed links).
  • FUD Factory – The scale of coverage, and misinformation, associated with this ruling is huge according to international advocacy group, EDRi. They also contend that the number of links removed by European Right to be Forgotten is nothing compared to the scale of DMCA triggered links removal, where it appears Google has had to delete “hundreds of millions of search results” without anywhere near the same level of attention.

Based on the above observations, it seems an element of perception manipulation may be at play with regards to the European Right to be Forgotten, especially given its lack of global scope and the fact that only links are removed (not the actual content). This gives individual requesters some illusion of control over information in a media (the Web) that is not necessarily designed to be manipulated as such. Furthermore, search engines may be an unfair, easy target since removal of links only make it more difficult, but not impossible, to locate users personal information even within Europe.

This ability to control access to personal information may be a good or bad thing, depending on who is looking and why. Everything rests on the motive of the searcher or ‘hider’ of personal information. Paedophiles, terrorists, ex-convicts, or even drunken antics in Magaluf, may wish to be forgotten, but is that beneficial to the interests of potential employers, neighbours or partners? Do we need to know everything, or should we all have some kind of adjustable online reputation filter? What about privacy and forgiveness for reformed offenders? So many questions and not enough answers, as we continue to evolve into a global digital society, but whatever the outcome the signs are clear that the debate and tension between free speech and privacy is far from over.

Image source: Adapted from © Atee83 | Dreamstime Stock Photos.


Internet Privacy, Digital Economy Bill, Copy Fright and Dirty Fights: It’s Only Business.

March 19, 2010 Leave a comment

It is clearly becoming a trend for major countries to start putting their foot down on just what will and won’t fly over the Internet (so to speak) in their countries. One may be forgiven for thinking that the media are only focused reporting such “interestingly” bad news. But why not, after all bad news sells better than good, and in showbiz, all publicity is good publicity anyway. Right?

Below are some examples of major recent developments that serve to highlight this state of affairs:

1. Italy vs. the Internet (via the Google Three) –  Last month, three senior Google execs were handed prison sentences by an Italian Judge for ‘violation of privacy’, as reported here on the Guardian’s website. As might be expected this incredible turn of events has raised concerns, among the global Internet community, that it threatens a fundamental principle that enables openness of the Internet. Furthermore, in a Huffington Post article, Lawrence Lessig, makes a strong case that to the Italian Parliament that Internet video services should not be governed by the exact same rules as broadcast media (e.g. TV), for the very simple and obvious reason that they are entirely different beasts. Duh!

2. Google, (Again) vs. China – Last week BBC News reported that Google will face consequences if it refuses to comply with Chinese censorship laws. In other words, either play by our rules or get out of China, the choice is yours.

3. Digital Economy Bill – This ongoing saga has created real debate among many people in the UK, as our politicians get to grips with trying to govern the Internet and make serious attempts to control its impact on the UK economy. Hmm, I wish them the best of luck, but as wiser heads have implored (including the BCS), this is not something to be rushed into law without necessary, proper and additional, nay extraordinary, due diligence.

In light of the above, there appears to be an almighty struggle brewing between major nations and the global Internet over just how their citizens may use / access the Internet, (and its myriad applications and service providers), with said citizens and service providers caught squarely in the middle. It looks like a battle between self determination and freedom of expression (with instruments like the safe harbour principle) on the one hand, versus Realpolitiks and commercial interests (possibly in the guise of social responsibility and sovereignty) on the other.

At the end, it may all just be a futile gesture , because to my mind, one key problem faced by those trying to lock down access and usage of the internet is that, as a communication channel, the Internet is fertile breeding ground for emergent information and content creation, remix and consumption practices that are hard to predict, never mind controlling it. How can anyone hope to control what is essentially unpredictable? Plus it doesn’t help that, as observed here by my fellow blogger, many people now desire to have access to the Internet as a basic human right to communicate!

Furthermore, I defy any industry to prove conclusively that the Internet, and casual piracy of digital content for that matter, is the root cause of their economic woes. For those that try, it may be tantamount to pointing out their incompetence in adapting to change, or even a cynical ploy to generate sympathy (perhaps in order to hide said incompetence). I just call it showbiz or film trickery.  But is it really all showbiz, or are certain industries and businesses really badly affected as they make out? It can be very hard to tell these days, especially as it seems that even the music industry is far from dead!

I would venture as far as to say that this not all bad news, and is in fact more like growing pains, indicative of the fact that traditional industries and nations are finally adjusting (albeit not without a fight) to the challenges of a new paradigm of business and global citizenship fostered by digital technology and the Internet. At the very least, this demands fundamental changes to much of our current ways of thinking.

PS. One final thought for the weekend – are major governments running scared at the spectre of Internet companies like Google becoming a major world power? Stranger things have been known to happen.


Note: This post was previously published on my BCS DRM Blog, where you can find the original post, and reader comments, in the archives.

Google, YouTube – Facing the Music

March 13, 2009 Leave a comment

Ok, no one is immune to the current harsh economic realities; not even the mighty Google. A couple of recent headlines indicate the typical response pattern of revenue and cost control measures, but where will it end?

According to an article in yesterday’s Financial Times, (see online version here), Google plans to start targeting ads to search users, based on their browsing patterns and habits. This should be a win-win situation for advertisers and end-users. However privacy advocates are concerned about the implications to personal privacy. For one thing, this is not an opt-in scheme therefore users will have to explicitly request removal, also there is the danger that the browsing information so gathered might get used in ways not originally intended.

Also, earlier this week, Google’s YouTube started blocking some video content in the UK. According to an article on PaidContent, this was due to a breakdown in their music licence renewal negotiations with major UK rights society, PRS for Music. The main bone of contention, as ever, was over money: YouTube thinks the licence fees are too high, PRS for Music think otherwise. As a result:

  • Some videos get blocked in the UK (and UK users miss out on their favourite YouTube videos)
  • Cue the usual headlines, sound-bites, and blog chatter (…ok, guilty as charged)
  • Finally, something happens (e.g. law suites), and the dispute is resolved (or not).

But really, who cares? It’s all become so predictable and boring; this never-ending conflict over costs, control and a Darwinian game of one-upmanship, at the expense of the content creator and the consumer.

In other unrelated matters, last week, I gave a talk to a joint BCS / IET / ACM audience about Digital Piracy, Privacy and the Content Economy in Cambridge University’s William Gates Lecture theatre (a great venue). I got a few questions about the potential for using content control mechanisms to support things like: micro-transactions / usage tracking / audit and reconciliation. My answer was that these could also be used in combination with other measures to enable provision of: open, non-intrusive and measurable access to content for users anywhere, anytime and on any device. But that would be far too easy, and too good to be true, now won’t it?


Note: This post was previously published on my BCS DRM Blog, where you can find the original post, and reader comments, in the archives.

DRM at the Olympics and other possible signs of progress

July 18, 2008 Leave a comment

Certain unrelated recent developments (e.g. DRM at the Olympics, Ad-supported Pirate Videos, and potential ISP Music Download services) appear to show, what might be described as, positive progress towards embracing the evolving digital content economy. Hope springs eternal.

These notable developments, in three continents no less, include:

USA: Media Companies choose to profit from pirated YouTube Video Clips. The title says it all, and the article, from the New York Times, demonstrates how some major content companies are trying to explore other ways of making advertising lemonade from copyright infringement lemons.

UK: Possible ISP backed Flat Fee Music Deal. Although this appears to have turned into a damp squib, (albeit with publicity upside for the likes of PlayLouder and Virgin Broadband), the fact that the proposition of a flat-fee, all-you-can-eat, P2P based music sharing service supported by a major ISP could gain so much traction / buzz in the blogosphere effectively demonstrates a potential opportunity, worthy of further exploration, for the music labels and ISPs (off the back of their recent agreement).

China: Free Music / Protect Video – Perhaps as befitting a nation with the world’s eyes on it, there are two developments worthy of mention here:

  1. Google launches free music download service in China – This was announced in February, and will enable Google users in China to search and download DRM-free songs. Although the advert based revenue is to be split between Google / the music labels / hosting service provider, some analysts still wonder if the major music labels ought to be worried.
  2. DRM at the Beijing Olympics. According to this recent DRMWatch article, China’s CCTV has chosen SafeNet’s OMA 2.0 DRM for protecting Internet video coverage of the Beijing Olympics. Ok, so there’s that dreaded three letter acronym again, but this is arguably a good example of the appropriate use of DRM technology for valuable, time sensitive, content.

In conclusion, the above are just some examples of steady progress towards embracing the changes, challenges and opportunities offered by the evolving digital content landscape. Who knows, perhaps tomorrow there might even be a severe outbreak of world peace. As said before, hope springs internal (sic).


Note: This post was previously published on my BCS DRM Blog, where you can find the original post, and reader comments, in the archives.