Google loses privacy case

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Chen
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Google loses privacy case

Postby Chen » Tue May 13, 2014 6:45 pm UTC

http://www.cnn.com/2014/05/13/business/ ... ?hpt=hp_t3

I'm not sure how I feel about this. A man wanted Google to remove from their search engine, a link to a newspaper article that showed some of his stuff was being sold to deal with his debts. He won his case and Europe's top court said google would have to remove that hit from their search engine at that person's request.

The quote at the end of the article is somewhat apt.

"...This is akin to marching into a library and forcing it to pulp books."


Perhaps a tad sensationlist, it seems accurate. If I was in the news some time ago, why should Google have any obligation not to show results that point to articles about me, if I suddenly decide I don't want them to? If I wrote a book about someone and they decided they've changed enough that they don't want that book out there, should they be able to go to a library and have that book removed from its catalog?

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Re: Google loses privacy case

Postby speising » Tue May 13, 2014 7:19 pm UTC

akin to demanding to pulp the index, more like.

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Re: Google loses privacy case

Postby Derek » Tue May 13, 2014 8:42 pm UTC

Next week: The ECJ rules that bad weather violates people's right to be happy.

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Re: Google loses privacy case

Postby elasto » Wed May 14, 2014 2:01 am UTC

Chen wrote:
"...This is akin to marching into a library and forcing it to pulp books."

Yeah, no it's not.

Somewhere else compared it to removing all the street signs pointing to the library. The book is still there, it's just harder to find.

The book being delisted from the library's database is an even better analogy. If you know which bookshelf it's on you can go read it, but most people will never know it's there.

(How you read the analogy depends on whether the 'library' is the search engine or the offending website)

---

I don't know if I agree with this ruling or not. Metadata is as important if not more important than data these days. If someone has a right to control their personal data - and Europe believes ordinary people do - then they need to have a right to control their metadata too.

But, yeah, this is all a bit like King Canute trying to command the waves not to lap at his feet. Feel sorry for Google here really.

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Re: Google loses privacy case

Postby phlip » Wed May 14, 2014 2:15 am UTC

What I don't get is how the court can simultaneously find against Google for linking to the newspaper article, but not against the newspaper itself for continuing to publish it. The newspaper is the one that's actually putting the information out there, Google is just pointing to it. By making Google remove the link, you haven't actually made the information inaccessible, just made it harder to find. Whereas if you make the newspaper take down the archive of its article, or at least mark it as non-indexable, then Google wouldn't have to do anything.

I'm not saying either of them should have had to do anything... I'm just saying that even granting the idea that the thing needs to come down... I'm not sure how they got to the solution they did from there.

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Thesh
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Re: Google loses privacy case

Postby Thesh » Wed May 14, 2014 2:47 am UTC

It appears this is the article in question:

http://hemeroteca.lavanguardia.com/prev ... 1/pdf.html

It's just a little ad down the side.
Summum ius, summa iniuria.

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Re: Google loses privacy case

Postby elasto » Wed May 14, 2014 3:05 am UTC

phlip wrote:What I don't get is how the court can simultaneously find against Google for linking to the newspaper article, but not against the newspaper itself for continuing to publish it. The newspaper is the one that's actually putting the information out there, Google is just pointing to it. By making Google remove the link, you haven't actually made the information inaccessible, just made it harder to find. Whereas if you make the newspaper take down the archive of its article, or at least mark it as non-indexable, then Google wouldn't have to do anything.

I'm not saying either of them should have had to do anything... I'm just saying that even granting the idea that the thing needs to come down... I'm not sure how they got to the solution they did from there.

Well, requiring the newspaper to delete the article would be like ordering a library to pulp a book. They aren't saying the newspaper's article is factually incorrect, merely that it is no longer relevant.

I think it's important to realize this is a case about someone's historical financial debts; I guess we can consider it a bit like the laws our countries have on discharging bankruptcies and such. Least I hope the US has equivalent laws!

I'm talking about stuff like Credit Reference Agencies - where they keep a record of your credit history but are obligated by law to remove the data after a period of years - and are also obligated by law to give you easy methods to dispute errors. That system would totally break down if, on receiving your mortgage application, the bank could bypass a CRA and simply Google you to find out your financial history..!

As well as financial records, medical and criminal records likewise are important to protect because of how unfairly prejudicial they can be to insurance companies, employers and so on, and I imagine our countries have equally strong laws about handling those.

Like I say, I don't think it's a battle the authorities can win. Information wants to be free and all that. But I'm happy that Europe has it as a priority to have decent private data protection laws that have real teeth. Their heart is in the right place at least.

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Re: Google loses privacy case

Postby Diadem » Wed May 14, 2014 7:40 am UTC

This case is a little bit more complicated.

Google's position is that it it doesn't create content, it just indexes it. The prosecution argued, successfully it would appear, that google is doing more than just indexing. It's making selections, ordering data on relevancy, that kind of stuff. It's not just indexing content, it's also creating content. The newspaper published that article ages ago, back when it was still relevant. If they republished it today, they'd probably be in the wrong, but they aren't, it's merely sitting passively in their archive. It's Google that's sort of republishing the article by telling the whole world "That guy? Yeah I know him, I know him alright. Listen up, let me tell you about him. The most important thing you need to know is (...)".

I think there's a lot of merit in this line of reasoning. Meta data is data.

I just don't know if this ruling is feasible. Good intentions aren't worth much if they are divorced from reality. How are you going to decide which data should be removed and which shouldn't? How are you going to force companies to comply with these guidelines, without bankrupting them or ruining all the good work they are doing.

In general though I think I like and support a "Right to be forgotten". This is a new issue, there's no good historic parallel to such a right. I think it's a good idea to think about stuff like that, and I think it's a good idea to make legislation about it, but in that order please.
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Re: Google loses privacy case

Postby Thesh » Wed May 14, 2014 7:48 am UTC

If it was against archive.org, or the news site itself, I would agree, but I personally think that you should have responsibility only for what you host, not what you link to. Metadata or not, the fact is that there are plenty of search engines and anyone can make them. If you want to force Google to remove something from their cache, fine. If you want to force someone to remove something from their page, fine. But something they link to? No, that's an illusion of privacy, not privacy.
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Re: Google loses privacy case

Postby elasto » Wed May 14, 2014 10:04 am UTC

Thesh wrote:If it was against archive.org, or the news site itself, I would agree, but I personally think that you should have responsibility only for what you host, not what you link to.

Very very tricky.

As Diadem and I both said, metadata is as important these days as data itself - perhaps even more so. How much of a threat would bittorrent really be to industry if there were no search engines for it? To take another example, should Google really have no algorithms in their image search to try to exclude child porn?

I don't know where the line is but there is a line there somewhere: It's neither the case that Google have no responsibility at all nor that Google have to police the whole internet; It has to be something in between.

---

Search engines have already changed the world and the revolution is just beginning. It will eventually be possible for intelligent aggregation services to automatically search all the facebook posts of your friends to establish a huge amount of information about you - even if you post nothing yourself. Things like medical issues, financial issues, criminal history and so on will be available at the click of a mouse.

Ideally there'll be laws in place as to what these aggregation services - of which Google is but v1.0 - are allowed to present. There should be a 'right to be forgotten' as it is commonly put. Whether that's feasible given the free and borderless nature of the net is debatable though.

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Re: Google loses privacy case

Postby Chen » Wed May 14, 2014 11:34 am UTC

Ironically this case just made his credit history MORE public than before. Is Google supposed to remove all links to this news story now too if he asks for it? Clearly they now unearth the same financial history issue as the original article did. Not to mention if you search the guy's name, the original article is now on the first page, presumably because of all the people searching for it.

I can't see a practical way to enforce this ruling. What criteria would Google (or anyone) use to determine if a link is relevant anymore? If I request that something be removed from Google's search, who tells them I'm justified in asking or not? Is 10 years too long for something to be relevant? 5? Is it case by case?

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Re: Google loses privacy case

Postby elasto » Wed May 14, 2014 12:25 pm UTC

Chen wrote:Ironically this case just made his credit history MORE public than before.

Well of course, but someone has to make the sacrifice to benefit everyone.

Is Google supposed to remove all links to this news story now too if he asks for it? Clearly they now unearth the same financial history issue as the original article did. Not to mention if you search the guy's name, the original article is now on the first page, presumably because of all the people searching for it.

No, I wouldn't expect they'd have to do any of that.

I can't see a practical way to enforce this ruling. What criteria would Google (or anyone) use to determine if a link is relevant anymore? If I request that something be removed from Google's search, who tells them I'm justified in asking or not? Is 10 years too long for something to be relevant? 5? Is it case by case?

I would say the answer is that Google - and any other search engine - should default to respecting any request from a private individual to remove information about themselves unless there is a clear public interest argument for not doing so.

Basically, Europe's inclination is towards very strong data protection rights - the right of individuals to control their own data and prevent other from profiting from the use and abuse of it without explicit permission; Whereas the US is much more inclined to sacrifice everything on the altar of 'free speech'.

This case obviously lies firmly in between those two extremes, which is why it is tricky - and if it wasn't expired financial information about this guy he was asking to be removed from searches I would be less sympathetic. But everyone has a right to a 'clean sheet' and a 'second chance' and there needs to be some way for that to continue to happen post the omniscience that is the information-age.

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Re: Google loses privacy case

Postby Xenomortis » Wed May 14, 2014 12:59 pm UTC

I don't know what to make of this.

Tools like Google are invaluable in the modern age; the internet and the ability to search it effectively are a conerstone of modern society and are only going to get more important.
This seems like a step back; information that cannot be found might as well not exist.

At the same time, I can sympathise.
But I would like to think people can judge for themselves on how relevant information is; an article from 16 years ago, or stories from someone's young teenage years, I do not find damning.
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Re: Google loses privacy case

Postby Chen » Wed May 14, 2014 1:49 pm UTC

elasto wrote:I would say the answer is that Google - and any other search engine - should default to respecting any request from a private individual to remove information about themselves unless there is a clear public interest argument for not doing so.


So without a time limit? If I read a newspaper article that talks about me but I don't particularly like what it says, should I be able to simply remove it from searches? I can understand trying to get the content providers to remove articles but the person who indexes it?

Basically, Europe's inclination is towards very strong data protection rights - the right of individuals to control their own data and prevent other from profiting from the use and abuse of it without explicit permission; Whereas the US is much more inclined to sacrifice everything on the altar of 'free speech'.

This case obviously lies firmly in between those two extremes, which is why it is tricky - and if it wasn't expired financial information about this guy he was asking to be removed from searches I would be less sympathetic. But everyone has a right to a 'clean sheet' and a 'second chance' and there needs to be some way for that to continue to happen post the omniscience that is the information-age.


I'm not clear why public information about someone is somehow THEIR data. People are certainly entitled to a "second chance", but I don't think they should be entitled to it through what is basically the destruction of information.

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Re: Google loses privacy case

Postby Mutex » Wed May 14, 2014 3:38 pm UTC

Orlowski can be a pretty contentious individual but he makes some good points here:

http://www.theregister.co.uk/2014/05/14 ... eu_ruling/

The key points:

You won't be able to "censor Google" just because you don't like something. Nor will asking Google get something deleted. There's no new "right to be forgotten".

There's nothing new today that need worry publishers and journalists - Lord Leveson's Whingers' Charter has far more of a chilling effect on news operations, especially smaller ones. And Google can say no to complaints. The courts ultimately decide whether a complaint has merits or not. In short, power hasn't shifted dramatically one way or another. It hasn't really shifted at all.

All the ruling did was make Google subject to European laws. The case brought against it by Spain's data protection agency (on behalf of a Spanish citizen) merely argued that Google should respect one of European law's "fundamental rights", that of the right to privacy. Google's reaction to a European asserting his or her rights was a familiar one: You can't catch us. N-yerr.

(...)

Yesterday, the ECJ simply affirmed that privacy is a "fundamental right", defined here in Article 7, alongside other fundamental rights like free expression, and Google can't ignore it. The two rights will bump into each other from time to time. and the justices painstakingly pointed out that one fundamental right doesn't trump another.

So. The ECJ didn't create a new fundamental "right to be forgotten", which Commissioner Viviane Reding has called for. Any right to be forgotten in Europe remains just as it was on Monday – a privacy right that has to be weighed against other rights. It's not like you can suddenly bring a gun to a knife fight, and demand stuff is removed. Index on Censorship got it badly wrong yesterday, comparing the ruling to book-burning. Wikipedia supremo Jimmy Wales frantically took to every media outlet that would have him to echo this. And without apparently fully understanding the ruling, Channel 4 News magnified the alarm.

This is nonsense because, as a complainant, you still have to go through a state's Information Commission or a court, and a judge still has to decide whether your case has merits. The justices spend some time discussing how this balance between privacy and expression should be struck.

The ECJ acknowledged that there's a conflict, and that asserting a right to your private life infringes upon someone else's freedom of expression.

A citizen can only ask a "data processor" to take action if the information is "inadequate, irrelevant or no longer relevant, or excessive in relation to those purposes and in the light of the time that has elapsed" – and that adds up to something seriously prejudicial to the citizen.

So this is not censorship or book-burning. It's only an issue if it's inadequate, excessive or out of date and if it's considered prejudicial to the citizen. So it isn't a Whingers' Charter. Although that doesn't mean people won't start to whinge.

But whinging isn't enough to get a story removed from Google, the justices say, quite clearly (and twice). The right of removal – if the conditions have been met – can still be outweighed by freedom of expression and the public interest.

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Re: Google loses privacy case

Postby Derek » Wed May 14, 2014 4:36 pm UTC

Right, because having judges work full time deciding what is or is not permitted is definitely a good and efficient model of privacy.

Or maybe you don't actually have a right to privacy of information that is already public? Maybe people should learn what "public" and "private" actually mean?

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Re: Google loses privacy case

Postby DanD » Wed May 14, 2014 6:13 pm UTC

So, does the court case for the removal request become public record? Because if I were a particularly nasty sort of person and worked for google, I would be strongly tempted to replace the original bit of information with the information on the court case in terms of ranking.

To clarify, I believe that this sort of take-down approach is fundamentally wrong. If the information is factual, it should not be down to the individual to determine if it remains in place.

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Re: Google loses privacy case

Postby Derek » Wed May 14, 2014 6:20 pm UTC

DanD wrote:So, does the court case for the removal request become public record? Because if I were a particularly nasty sort of person and worked for google, I would be strongly tempted to replace the original bit of information with the information on the court case in terms of ranking.

I don't think any malevolence is required. The search algorithms will almost certainly do that on their own. No one gave two shits about some Spanish guy's bankruptcy ten years ago, but this court case is big news and is all over the media networks.

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Re: Google loses privacy case

Postby Zamfir » Wed May 14, 2014 8:57 pm UTC

Here's a useful summary of the questions asked of the ECJ, from when the case was moved up originallyhttp://ispliability.wordpress.com/2012/03/02/spanish-court-asks-the-ecj-whether-google-must-delete-links-to-personal-data/

- The first set of issues is simply whether such laws apply to Google. Google claimed that only US law and Californian regulations apply here.
-The second set is about a specific EU directive, and whether it applies here. The directive is about personal databases, such as customer databases. Google claims that their search database is not such a database on persons, even if as a side effects it happens to create such a database as part of its more general efforts.
-Then finally, the Spanish court asks the ECJ explicitly to rule on this case, to set a precedent because there are very similar other cases before it.

IANAL, but I think the core part is the second. For example, the EU directive demands that if a company keeps such a database, it has to spent effort to keep the information in it accurate and up-to-date. Google obviously does not want such responsibility at all, it likes to see all the information on its servers as some else's responsibility, with them only as a neutral conduit.

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Re: Google loses privacy case

Postby elasto » Thu May 15, 2014 2:37 am UTC

Derek wrote:Or maybe you don't actually have a right to privacy of information that is already public? Maybe people should learn what "public" and "private" actually mean?

But that's simply not true. There are plenty of situations where information might be public but a right to privacy still exists. Examples include the naming of victims in a rape case, the naming of criminals if under-age, leaked sex tapes, leaked national security issues etc. etc.

There is an issue of practicality in that once information becomes too widely disseminated it becomes impossible to put the genie back in the bottle, but that does not mean that people don't still have a right to privacy - it just means that right becomes de facto unenforceable.

In the case of financial, medical or criminal matters, there is a reason why there are highly controlled databases which people are forced to seek information through: And one of those reasons is it allows the controlled expiry of information once the probability of it causing unfair prejudice outweighs its usefulness.

The whole system is based on security through obscurity - which if you ask any cryptologist will tell you is a terrible method for controlling information. However we don't currently have anything better. Personally I don't think we will be able to come up with a better method - I think search engines are a game changer; But I appreciate the efforts of those in authority trying to come up with something workable.

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Re: Google loses privacy case

Postby Derek » Thu May 15, 2014 4:07 am UTC

elasto wrote:But that's simply not true. There are plenty of situations where information might be public but a right to privacy still exists. Examples include the naming of victims in a rape case, the naming of criminals if under-age, leaked sex tapes, leaked national security issues etc. etc.

According to this case (unless it has since been overturned), "the imposition of damages for truthfully publishing public information [in the case, the name of a rape victim,] violates the First Amendment". Note that in this case the rape victim's name had probable been released publicly unintentionally, but once it was public reprinting it was no longer illegal.

elasto wrote:In the case of financial, medical or criminal matters, there is a reason why there are highly controlled databases which people are forced to seek information through: And one of those reasons is it allows the controlled expiry of information once the probability of it causing unfair prejudice outweighs its usefulness.

Right, because that information is private. The databases are tightly controlled in order to keep it private. If anyone can walk into a court and request documents without any kind of authorization, then those documents are public information and there is no right or expectation that it should be private. Or if you rent a billboard and display all your personal information on it, that's no longer private, and if someone copies that information to a website, you have no right to have the information removed even after you take down the billboard. Once public, always public.

The whole system is based on security through obscurity - which if you ask any cryptologist will tell you is a terrible method for controlling information. However we don't currently have anything better. Personally I don't think we will be able to come up with a better method - I think search engines are a game changer; But I appreciate the efforts of those in authority trying to come up with something workable.

We do have a better system: Private information is kept private (and we have effective ways of doing this), and public information is not subject to take-down requests. In this particular case, the information was a matter of public record: It was printed in a publicly available newspaper at the time it happened. That information cannot be made retroactively private. If you want to stop situations like this from happening in the future, then the local government should stop posting that information in public newspapers. But this too cannot be applied retroactively.

EDIT: Also, I feel it is right that I post this:
Les dues meitats indivises d'un habitatge al carrer Montseny, 8, propietat de MARIO COSTEJA GONZÁLEZ i ALICIA VARGAS COTS, respectivament. Superficie: 90 m^2. Cárregues: 8,5 milións de ptes. Tipus de subhasta: 2 milions de ptes. cadascuna de les meitats.

Google Translate (with minor corrections) wrote:The two halves of a house undivided on the street Montseny, 8, owned by MARIO COSTEJA GONZALEZ and ALICIA VARGAS COTS respectively. Surface area: 90 m^2. Expenses: 8.5 million pesetas. Auction Type: 2 million pesetas. each of the halves.

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Re: Google loses privacy case

Postby elasto » Thu May 15, 2014 4:49 am UTC

Derek wrote:
elasto wrote:But that's simply not true. There are plenty of situations where information might be public but a right to privacy still exists. Examples include the naming of victims in a rape case, the naming of criminals if under-age, leaked sex tapes, leaked national security issues etc. etc.

According to this case (unless it has since been overturned), "the imposition of damages for truthfully publishing public information [in the case, the name of a rape victim,] violates the First Amendment". Note that in this case the rape victim's name had probable been released publicly unintentionally, but once it was public reprinting it was no longer illegal.

You are talking about US laws. Pretty obviously we are talking here about European laws and, not only are the laws different, as cultures we have quite different priorities.

Afaik anyone can walk into a court and discover the name of the rape victim. So it is 'public knowledge'. However it is disallowed for that information to be disseminated. Likewise, if a minor commits a criminal act, enough people may know about it that it is 'public knowledge'. However they are not allowed to disseminate it. In all cases we are talking about a level of knowledge something in between public and private, which used to be manageable, but in this post-search world is much less so.

elasto wrote:In the case of financial, medical or criminal matters, there is a reason why there are highly controlled databases which people are forced to seek information through: And one of those reasons is it allows the controlled expiry of information once the probability of it causing unfair prejudice outweighs its usefulness.

Right, because that information is private. The databases are tightly controlled in order to keep it private.

No it's not. Bankruptcy information is published - deliberately so so that any party owed money can come forward. But after a period of time it is expunged from the record: For example, banks are no longer allowed to consider it. It was public but then it becomes private. If they can do a discrete Googling then all checks and balances to ensure fairness become pointless.

This is all about how to ensure fairness in a world where forgetting past mistakes becomes impossible. Personally I think the US approach will win out because it is more realistic. But I would prefer it if some way were found for the European approach to work.

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Re: Google loses privacy case

Postby Derek » Thu May 15, 2014 5:13 am UTC

elasto wrote:You are talking about US laws. Pretty obviously we are talking here about European laws and, not only are the laws different, as cultures we have quite different priorities.

Yes, I was referring to US law there. I had said as much, but then I deleted the line...

Obviously the US and Europe have different laws here, however it is still relevant to discuss what the right laws are. And in this case the EU is clearly in the wrong, they are effectively trying to legislate the weather. It's not simply a matter of priorities, they are legislating something that is unenforceable, but will be expensive for the affected companies to (attempt to) comply, will be open for flagrant abuse, and will make it more difficult for the average citizen to access information that is public.

Afaik anyone can walk into a court and discover the name of the rape victim. So it is 'public knowledge'. However it is disallowed for that information to be disseminated.

In the US, I don't know if a rape victims name is necessarily disclosed publicly in court (it is possible to have private court sessions). The media as a matter of courtesy does not usually publish the names of rape victims, but the Supreme Court has repeatedly struck down laws that mandate this.

Likewise, if a minor commits a criminal act, enough people may know about it that it is 'public knowledge'. However they are not allowed to disseminate it. In all cases we are talking about a level of knowledge something in between public and private, which used to be manageable, but in this post-search world is much less so.

Whereby "manageable" you mean that wealthy people or organizations could afford access, but the average citizen could not. The internet has brought equality to this area, this is a Good Thing. If you find the current situation unacceptable, then it has always been unacceptable, you just didn't realize it. But instead of trying to rollback the clock to an even more flawed system, fix the system.

elasto wrote:In the case of financial, medical or criminal matters, there is a reason why there are highly controlled databases which people are forced to seek information through: And one of those reasons is it allows the controlled expiry of information once the probability of it causing unfair prejudice outweighs its usefulness.

Right, because that information is private. The databases are tightly controlled in order to keep it private.

No it's not. Bankruptcy information is published - deliberately so so that any party owed money can come forward. But after a period of time it is expunged from the record: For example, banks are no longer allowed to consider it. It was public but then it becomes private. If they can do a discrete Googling then all checks and balances to ensure fairness become pointless.

Bankruptcies are a matter of public record, yes. But most financial information is not. In the US you have to give permission for someone to access your credit report. You can't just go to the credit agencies and ask for some random person's credit history. Bank information is private. Taxes are also private (I believe), unless you're a publicly traded corporation.

Medical information is private, though I believe doctors may be able to access it in emergencies without your permission. But they need a legitimate reason.

Criminal records are public, in the US.

IANAL, so I'm not a hundred percent sure on any of this, but it's my understanding. The key point though is that once something has been made public it cannot be made private again, and no amount of legislation in the world can change that. The best you can do is legislate that the information cannot be used for certain purposes, ex: Bankruptcies more than 10 years old are still public information, but cannot be considered for evaluating credit risk (I think this would be a bad law, btw, but it is realistic and much more enforceable).

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Re: Google loses privacy case

Postby elasto » Thu May 15, 2014 5:28 am UTC

Derek wrote:Obviously the US and Europe have different laws here, however it is still relevant to discuss what the right laws are. And in this case the EU is clearly in the wrong, they are effectively trying to legislate the weather.


I don't know that I agree.

Let's take my suggestion for example - that any private individual (not company, nor person in the public eye) can make a request to a search engine that they take down a link relating to information to themselves. Where would the great harm come about? Most people wouldn't care about the information out there, but for the few that do there'd be easy recourse to fixing it.

Remember, I'm not suggesting that people be granted additional powers to have the content itself removed, only the link to it. That would mean it was still out there for a determined person to find, but for the average searcher it would become invisible. And for most cases that's good enough - better than now anyhow.

Bankruptcies are a matter of public record, yes. But most financial information is not. In the US you have to give permission for someone to access your credit report. You can't just go to the credit agencies and ask for some random person's credit history. Bank information is private. Taxes are also private (I believe), unless you're a publicly traded corporation.

Medical information is private, though I believe doctors may be able to access it in emergencies without your permission. But they need a legitimate reason.

Criminal records are public, in the US.

I'm trying to think ahead - way beyond Google to the search engines that will come after. It may be possible to reveal private information simply by piecing together partial pieces of information posted by third parties that, by themselves mean nothing, but cumulatively reveal the truth.

The US stance is to say that anything that comes out is fair game; That 'if you've got nothing to hide you've got nothing to fear'. The European stance is that people have a fundamental right to a private life.

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Re: Google loses privacy case

Postby Derek » Thu May 15, 2014 5:39 am UTC

elasto wrote:I don't know that I agree.

Let's take my suggestion for example - that any private individual (not company, nor person in the public eye) can make a request to a search engine that they take down a link relating to information to themselves. Where would the great harm come about? Most people wouldn't care about the information out there, but for the few that do there'd be easy recourse to fixing it.

Remember, I'm not suggesting that people be granted additional powers to have the content itself removed, only the link to it. That would mean it was still out there for a determined person to find, but for the average searcher it would become invisible. And for most cases that's good enough - better than now anyhow.

Someone can easily abuse the law to suppress negative information about themselves, information that most people would want to know. "Person in the public eye" is an extremely ambiguous and transient concept, nothing that a law should be based on. And that "determined person"? That's just someone with more money, or some large corporation, or the government. You had better hope your enemies don't have more money than you. It used to be you would hire a PI if you wanted some dirt on someone, now anyone can get the same information with Google. This scares some people, but it shouldn't. What should actually scare them is that this information has been available all along, nothing has actually changed.

I'm trying to think ahead - way beyond Google to the search engines that will come after. It may be possible to reveal private information simply by piecing together partial pieces of information posted by third parties that, by themselves mean nothing, but cumulatively reveal the truth.

The US stance is to say that anything that comes out is fair game; That 'if you've got nothing to hide you've got nothing to fear'. The European stance is that people have a fundamental right to a private life.

This is already possible. I can't think of any examples right now, but I've heard of some. Statistics goes a long ways here. What it reveals is that some things that we thought were private actually were not. The solution is to make everyone know that it's public (because it will be, whether they want it or not), and let them know how they can change their behavior to prevent future information from becoming public in the same way.

The real problem here is the illusion of privacy. When someone thinks some information is private, but it's actually public. When someone wrongly thinks something is private, they make poor decisions as a result. Eg, "It's ok to get wicked drunk at this party, I'll just delete the photos from Facebook in the morning". These laws are trying to preserve that illusion, but that will only create more problems. The only solution is to destroy the illusion. Shine a light on everything that is public, so people realize just how much information they are giving away. Only then can they change their behaviors to preserve their privacy. If you want to be a privacy advocate, then you should oppose laws that create the illusion of privacy.
Last edited by Derek on Thu May 15, 2014 5:53 am UTC, edited 2 times in total.

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Zamfir
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Re: Google loses privacy case

Postby Zamfir » Thu May 15, 2014 5:43 am UTC

http://curia.europa.eu/jcms/upload/docs/application/pdf/2014-05/cp140070en.pdf

The press release from the court.

Some excerpts:
In today’s judgment, the Court of Justice finds, first of all, that by searching automatically, constantly and systematically for information published on the internet, the operator of a search engine ‘collects’ data within the meaning of the directive. The Court considers, furthermore, that the operator, within the framework of its indexing programmes, ‘retrieves’, ‘records’ and ‘organises’ the data in question, which it then ‘stores’ on its servers and, as the case may be, ‘discloses’ and ‘makes available’ to its users in the form of lists of results. Those operations, which are referred to expressly and unconditionally in the directive, must be classified as ‘processing’, regardless of the fact that the operator of the search engine carries them out without distinction in respect of information other than the personal data.
The Court also points out that the operations referred to by the directive must be classified as processing even where they exclusively concern material that has already been published as it stands in the media. A general derogation from the application of the directive in such a case would have the consequence of largely depriving the directive of its effect.

The Court further holds that the operator of the search engine is the ‘controller’ in respect of that processing, within the meaning of the directive, given that it is the operator which determines the purposes and means of the processing. The Court observes in this regard that, inasmuch as the activity of a search engine is additional to that of publishers of websites and is liable to affect significantly the fundamental rights to privacy and to the protection of personal data, the operator of the search engine must ensure, within the framework of its responsibilities, powers and capabilities, that its activity complies with the directive’s requirements. This is the only way that the guarantees laid down by the directive will be able to have full effect and that effective and complete protection of data subjects (in particular of their privacy) may actually be achieved.



The Court points out in this context that processing of personal data carried out by such an operator enables any internet user, when he makes a search on the basis of an individual’s name, to obtain, through the list of results, a structured overview of the information relating to that individual on the internet. The Court observes, furthermore, that this information potentially concerns a vast number of aspects of his private life and that, without the search engine, the information could not have been interconnected or could have been only with great difficulty. Internet users may thereby establish a more or less detailed profile of the person searched against. Furthermore, the effect of the interference with the person’s rights is heightened on account of the important role played by the internet and search engines in modern society, which render the information contained in such lists of results ubiquitous. In the light of its potential seriousness, such interference cannot, according to the Court, be justified by merely the economic interest which the operator of the engine has in the data processing.

However, inasmuch as the removal of links from the list of results could, depending on the information at issue, have effects upon the legitimate interest of internet users potentially interested in having access to that information, the Court holds that a fair balance should be sought in particular between that interest and the data subject’s fundamental rights, in particular the right to privacy and the right to protection of personal data. The Court observes in this regard that, whilst it is true that the data subject’s rights also override, as a general rule, that interest of internet users, this balance may however depend, in specific cases, on the nature of the information in question and its sensitivity for the data subject’s private life and on the interest of the public in having that information, an interest which may vary, in particular, according to the role played by the data subject in public life.

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Re: Google loses privacy case

Postby elasto » Thu May 15, 2014 5:57 am UTC

Derek wrote:Someone can easily abuse the law to suppress negative information about themselves, information that most people would want to know.

Can you give a non-criminal example of such information? I'm arguing that every private individual has 'negative information about themselves' and that all of us have a right to privacy.

"Person in the public eye" is an extremely ambiguous and transient concept, nothing that a law should be based on.

You're making it more complicated than it need be. If there's a dispute between the private individual and the search engine as to whether the individual is in the public eye then it can go to arbitration. To point isn't to make a law that's completely clear-cut because such laws tend to suck anyway; The point is to err on the side of caution and give the benefit of the doubt to the individual, just like we do in criminal trials. The point is also not to have the law make a perfect ruling every time. Yes mistakes will get made in both directions. The point is simply to have things better than they are now; You are making the best the enemy of the good.

The real problem here is the illusion of privacy. When someone thinks some information is private, but it's actually public. When someone thinks something is private, they make poor decisions as a result. Eg, "It's ok to get wicked drunk at this party, I'll just delete the photos from Facebook in the morning". These laws are trying to preserve that illusion, but that will only create more problems. The only solution is to destroy the illusion. Shine a light on everything that is public, so people realize just how much information they are giving away. Only then can they change their behaviors to preserve their privacy.

You're misunderstanding how bad it is. My point isn't that people are posting photos of their drinking to facebook; That could be educated away. It's that other people are posting pictures of you drinking to facebook. There's nothing criminal or libelous in them doing so. It's not content that facebook ought to be forced to remove. But it is something that your boss shouldn't be able to find with a simple Googling should you so wish.

---

I find the court's conclusions as outlined by Zamfir's excerpts entirely reasonable.

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Re: Google loses privacy case

Postby Chen » Thu May 15, 2014 12:01 pm UTC

elasto wrote:You're misunderstanding how bad it is. My point isn't that people are posting photos of their drinking to facebook; That could be educated away. It's that other people are posting pictures of you drinking to facebook. There's nothing criminal or libelous in them doing so. It's not content that facebook ought to be forced to remove. But it is something that your boss shouldn't be able to find with a simple Googling should you so wish.


I don't agree with this. You were doing something in a public space. It's public knowledge. Should we be able to suppress it if my boss heard it from a friend of a friend who was at the bar instead of finding it online? I think Derek's point was valid. This information about you getting drunk at a bar was NEVER private. For some reason people think it is.

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Re: Google loses privacy case

Postby LaserGuy » Thu May 15, 2014 12:46 pm UTC

Chen wrote:
elasto wrote:You're misunderstanding how bad it is. My point isn't that people are posting photos of their drinking to facebook; That could be educated away. It's that other people are posting pictures of you drinking to facebook. There's nothing criminal or libelous in them doing so. It's not content that facebook ought to be forced to remove. But it is something that your boss shouldn't be able to find with a simple Googling should you so wish.


I don't agree with this. You were doing something in a public space. It's public knowledge. Should we be able to suppress it if my boss heard it from a friend of a friend who was at the bar instead of finding it online? I think Derek's point was valid. This information about you getting drunk at a bar was NEVER private. For some reason people think it is.


People drink in their homes as well, and it's possible to take pictures of them there if you are present (or if you're sneaky and not present).

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Re: Google loses privacy case

Postby Chen » Thu May 15, 2014 1:13 pm UTC

LaserGuy wrote:People drink in their homes as well, and it's possible to take pictures of them there if you are present (or if you're sneaky and not present).


In which cases the person taking the pictures is violating your privacy and you can get the court to demand those pictures be removed. Not task the person who found the pictures with making sure that the pictures can no longer be found with the method they used.

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Re: Google loses privacy case

Postby morriswalters » Thu May 15, 2014 1:16 pm UTC

elasto wrote:No it's not. Bankruptcy information is published - deliberately so so that any party owed money can come forward. But after a period of time it is expunged from the record: For example, banks are no longer allowed to consider it. It was public but then it becomes private. If they can do a discrete Googling then all checks and balances to ensure fairness become pointless.
Wouldn't it be better to put the burden on the publisher to remove the records from their online repositories rather than have an indexer have to censor results? Newspapers know they exist, they were paid to publish. Sunset the source, tag the data type as a type to be purged. At which point the index points to data that no longer exists. Otherwise it would become a free for all. Just responding to the requests would become a massive burden.

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Re: Google loses privacy case

Postby Chen » Thu May 15, 2014 1:50 pm UTC

It starts already: http://www.bbc.com/news/technology-27423527

I dislike using a slipperly slope argument on how the court ruling would be abused and that's bad for that reason, but look at these:

An ex-politician seeking re-election has asked to have links to an article about his behaviour in office removed.

A man convicted of possessing child abuse images has requested links to pages about his conviction to be wiped.

And a doctor wants negative reviews from patients removed from the results.


None of these are going to be valid reasons to take-down a link even according to the court ruling, but the fact that Google now needs to sort through the nonsense is just further indication that this ruling was a bad one. And how many abuses of this will actually get through and result in removal of links that could be of use to the public?

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Re: Google loses privacy case

Postby MartianInvader » Thu May 15, 2014 4:55 pm UTC

The biggest danger in my mind is that it really threatens to just plain shut search engines down. If every request needs to be looked at by a lawyer to determine whether it's legit, even Google can't afford the huge number of lawyers it would need to process the claims from everyone in the world, let alone plucky start-ups trying to compete with them.

Or they could try to automate the process, in which case the amount of bogus claims that go through would take down so much information from the index as to make the search engine effectively worthless.
Let's have a fervent argument, mostly over semantics, where we all claim the burden of proof is on the other side!

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Re: Google loses privacy case

Postby speising » Thu May 15, 2014 5:23 pm UTC

google could fuck over the internet by taking a leaf out of the net neutrality book: convert to a (paid) opt-in system. the livelyhood of a lot of businesses depends on being able to be found.

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Re: Google loses privacy case

Postby nitePhyyre » Thu May 15, 2014 6:31 pm UTC

How much clout does google actually have? I've always wondered what would happen if, when in a situation like this, Google just said "fine Spain, you're on your own. Have fun without us." No google search, no maps, no gmail, etc. Cut them off.

Do enough people rely on Google that they would complain to the government and force them to make laws acceptable to Google? Or, would people just switch to Bing?
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Re: Google loses privacy case

Postby Chen » Thu May 15, 2014 8:35 pm UTC

nitePhyyre wrote:How much clout does google actually have? I've always wondered what would happen if, when in a situation like this, Google just said "fine Spain, you're on your own. Have fun without us." No google search, no maps, no gmail, etc. Cut them off.

Do enough people rely on Google that they would complain to the government and force them to make laws acceptable to Google? Or, would people just switch to Bing?


Even if they did switch, this ruling sets the precedent for all search engines I'd think, not just google. Google probably has the best chance of actually managing this type of ruling since they're generally bigger than the other search engines. The smaller search engines are going to have a much harder time trying to comply with any take-down requests.

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Re: Google loses privacy case

Postby MartianInvader » Thu May 15, 2014 8:39 pm UTC

I remember reading somewhere that Google has like 90% of the search market in Europe, so pulling out would definitely be felt. But it would be felt by Google, too, as they make huge amounts of money by showing ads to people in these countries. All in all, it would probably be easier for the EU to replace Google than for Google to replace its ad dollars, but there's an aspect of "everybody loses" in that scenario. I don't think it's something either Google or the EU actually wants.

Unless the rules get so crazy that Google's actually losing money by staying in the EU, in which case they, and probably most other search engines, would likely pull out. In that scenario, I guess Europeans would go back to using telephone books or something.
Let's have a fervent argument, mostly over semantics, where we all claim the burden of proof is on the other side!

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Re: Google loses privacy case

Postby elasto » Fri May 16, 2014 1:34 am UTC

Chen wrote:It starts already: http://www.bbc.com/news/technology-27423527

I dislike using a slipperly slope argument on how the court ruling would be abused and that's bad for that reason, but look at these:

An ex-politician seeking re-election has asked to have links to an article about his behaviour in office removed.

A man convicted of possessing child abuse images has requested links to pages about his conviction to be wiped.

And a doctor wants negative reviews from patients removed from the results.


None of these are going to be valid reasons to take-down a link even according to the court ruling, but the fact that Google now needs to sort through the nonsense is just further indication that this ruling was a bad one. And how many abuses of this will actually get through and result in removal of links that could be of use to the public?


Why? Those are trivial for Google to say no to. Those people will then be forced to initiate arbitration which will cost them money and the arbitration will also trivially tell them no.

MartianInvader wrote:The biggest danger in my mind is that it really threatens to just plain shut search engines down. If every request needs to be looked at by a lawyer to determine whether it's legit, even Google can't afford the huge number of lawyers it would need to process the claims from everyone in the world, let alone plucky start-ups trying to compete with them.

Or they could try to automate the process, in which case the amount of bogus claims that go through would take down so much information from the index as to make the search engine effectively worthless.


I honestly find that extremely unlikely. How many people here would bother to make a request for link removal? And we're amongst the most net-savy of users. Less net-savy users are even less likely to bother. I bet overall the numbers will be tiny.

Heck, Chen's article didn't say there were immediately thousands of requests, it mentioned 3 which will take someone 30 seconds to reject. The numbers that will initiate arbitration following rejection will be tinier still.

Honestly, the bottleneck won't be Google with its billions of dollars of resources, the bottlenecks will be with the individual country's arbitration panels: If they suddenly start getting overwhelmed with thousands of requests they will be the ones to force a streamlining of the law.

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Re: Google loses privacy case

Postby Derek » Fri May 16, 2014 1:58 am UTC

Derek wrote:
I'm trying to think ahead - way beyond Google to the search engines that will come after. It may be possible to reveal private information simply by piecing together partial pieces of information posted by third parties that, by themselves mean nothing, but cumulatively reveal the truth.

The US stance is to say that anything that comes out is fair game; That 'if you've got nothing to hide you've got nothing to fear'. The European stance is that people have a fundamental right to a private life.

This is already possible. I can't think of any examples right now, but I've heard of some. Statistics goes a long ways here. What it reveals is that some things that we thought were private actually were not. The solution is to make everyone know that it's public (because it will be, whether they want it or not), and let them know how they can change their behavior to prevent future information from becoming public in the same way.

Hey, I just remembered an example! Check out Panopticlick. It gathers a variety of information about your computer from browser and tells you how unique you are on the internet. It says my fingerprint is unique. If you have a unique or nearly unique fingerprint, then someone could track you without using cookies. Let's take a look at this situation:

What you think is private: Your uniqueness.
What is public: Version information for your browser and plugins, timezone, screen information, and fonts.
Why you're mistaken about your privacy: The public information about your system provides a set of uniquely identifiable information.
What you can do to prevent this loss of privacy in the future: Use common (usually the most recent or default) versions of software and settings. Disable your browser from sharing this information (by disabling javascript, or with a plugin). If you're really paranoid, you could alternate between browsers or write a plugin that randomly reports different browsers and versions. If you're fingerprint is constantly changing, a website can't track you.

Why? Those are trivial for Google to say no to. Those people will then be forced to initiate arbitration which will cost them money and the arbitration will also trivially tell them no.

Do you really think it's so black and white? How "in the public eye" does a person have to be? How long ago do their mistakes have to be? How bad do their mistakes have to be? There is nothing here but grey, and lots and lots of green for lawyers.

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Re: Google loses privacy case

Postby Chen » Fri May 16, 2014 11:42 am UTC

elasto wrote:Why? Those are trivial for Google to say no to. Those people will then be forced to initiate arbitration which will cost them money and the arbitration will also trivially tell them no.


Trivial once they've read through the request. Depending on how many of these they're getting, overall it may not be a trivial thing at all. I'll grant that article is suitably vague in how many they are getting. I had seen another headline with them being "swamped" with requests, but again that article didn't have any actual data about that either so it might just be a sensationalist headline.


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