The tide is turning, and members of the public are now able to remove inaccurate search results that negatively affect them – in Europe at least.
Hundreds of people including an ex-politician seeking re-election, a paedophile and a doctor have applied to have details about them wiped from Google’s search index since a landmark ruling in Europe on Tuesday.
The deluge of claims trying to exercise the “right to be forgotten” follows a decision by Europe’s highest court, which said that in some cases the right to privacy of individuals outweighs the freedom of search engines to link to information about them although the information itself can remain on web pages.
It is really hard to see how far this will go in the future. In one direction this is just a glitch, and it will be a case of collateral damage (bad luck if a few people are affected) vs the greater efficiency.
In the other direction, people get to control how they are represented online. This might (ironically) require unique identifiers so we can distinguish between people with different names.
I certainly don’t want this, but for the sake of efficiencies I suggest that people can choose to have a unique identifier / username / handle that would be displayed alongside your regular name online. It would be a case of claiming or disclaiming online references. In doing so you risk legal action that makes the connections more definite (or not).
…the [FTC] decided on a 5-0 vote that Google’s prominent promotion of its own products and services in search results is not biased towards competitors. [Source: Adage]
The ultimate takeaway from this investigation is that Google can keep buying near-monopoly information services and rank its own properties well in search results. YouTube was already dominating when Google bought it, and it would have been mighty difficult to ever lose than dominance (via some catastrophic error), or for a competitor to ever best their first mover advantage. Sure, if you had a few billion spare you could run a comparable service that was ad-free… for a while.
A better way to describe Google’s future monopoly would be that they have five options when an website starts to dominate search results for a particular niche:
1) Buy it
2) Buy a competitor
3) Ban it
4) Copy it
5) Give in
Google also agreed to no longer scrape content from other properties for inclusion in its own search results. Google was alleged to have grabbed content from other sites such as restaurant reviews site Yelp, leading consumers to believe the scraped content was Google’s, said FTC
So, back to their five choices… It is unlikely that Google can make a case for banning Yelp. Buying Yelp might be tricky, given that it was specifically part of this investigation. Copying is unlikely, because Google hasn’t exactly excelled at social – but they might try to incorporate reviews into Google+.
That leaves buying a competitor – and they already have, Zagat just over a year ago.
Once upon a time Google decided to give advance notice of upcoming policy updates – probably to keep them safe legally. It was a good call, because it would be unreasonable for advertisers to check the myriad of policy pages on a daily basis.
But it seems Google doesn’t care too much about the page. I only found it by accident, and I doubt advertisers were ever emailed about its existence. Yes, it might have been mentioned on Google’s Adwords blog, but most advertisers don’t even know about the blog, let alone feel they have to read it every day.
Now, to make things worse, Google have changed the URL of the page, making it even more obscure. And I’ve just found out the new page isn’t even indexed in Google!
Here’s all it says on the old page:
This page shows upcoming changes to the AdWords advertising policies. When appropriate, we also send out service announcements and notifications to advertisers who are directly impacted by our policy changes. We hope that you find this page useful.
(the rest of the page is blank, and there’s no link to or mention of the new page)
The new page is here:
It is linked to from this page:
But not indexed!
I feel sorry for any advertisers who lose their accounts because they weren’t aware of rule changes, because Google:
- has a continually changing and hard to use navigation system for their help files
- doesn’t contact advertisers directly about policy changes that could see their account permanently closed
- doesn’t even index a page as critical as the AdWords Policy Change Log
Many, many, many thousands of Google Adsense users have had their accounts suspended by Google. 99% of the time it is due to newbies not managing to navigate and abide by the numerous rules that must be obeyed. That Google does little to remind you of them, and makes their discovery moderately difficult seems to be a deliberate tactic.
Why would they make it so hard? Well for most businesses 80% of the income comes from 20% of the customers. Big customers will put the effort into abiding. Minnows might not, and Google’s automated system will catch them out. It’s an exclusive club, open to everyone.
Which means Google avoids dealing with customer service (one of the biggest costs when everything else is automated) for accounts that make them next to nothing.
Unfortunately this means collateral damage – SME customers who missed a rule or somehow get to to be suspended unfairly. I’m not sure if Rusty Compass is a minnow or SME, but in Australia there is a law that protects it from bullying:
Mr Bowyer’s complaint to the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission will accuse Google of unconscionable conduct – a legal definition that refers to harsh or unfair behaviour by a stronger party over a weaker party.
In the USA the only option would be to get a judge to define Google’s advertising products as a utility – utilities are required to make themselves available to anyone who pays their bills.