Saturday, May 24, 2014

Hiawatha Bray responds to the E.U. Court of Justice decision requiring Google to remove "reputation staining" information

May 13, 2014, the European Union Court of Justice ruled in Google Spain SL, Google Inc. v Agencia Española de Protección de Datos, Mario Costeja González that individuals may require search engines to remove links to objectionable information. The Court of Justice ruled that search engines do more than simple search and retrieval:
... 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. ....

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.
You can read the New York Times' article about the ruling here. It includes several responses from experts considering the potential effects of simply stripping out information from the Internet, and alternatively the power to control your own reputation.

The United States is very unlikely to come up with any similar ruling, largely because of our First Amendment free speech legal tradition. Hence an interesting column from the Boston Globe's technology columnist Hiawatha Bray on alternative ways U.S. residents can modify their search results to improve or maintain their Internet reputations. Some of what Bray offers is common-sense good advice that parents every where are handing out to their teens and college-age kids:

1. Don't do stupid stuff (at least in public)! But some of what he says may be counter-intuitive:

2. Establish your reputation online - and make sure it's what YOU want it to be! A dearth of information could be as damaging as bad reputation because others may fill the gap for you in unflattering ways.
* So use your real name on major social media sites
* Build your sites carefully and with a professional eye.
* Don't post stuff you'll regret (no drinking parties, etc!)
* Publish lots of interesting, but harmless posts (I think you should include things that establish your personality, but that may be after you are somewhat established in your profession -- I just think you should not be too bland!)
* Include a photo & information on personal interests, hobbies & a simple biography in that "about me" link

3. You can set up a personal website in your own name (, for instance) for as little as $30/month, and he recommends it.

4. Bray reminds you that search engines rank social media websites and personal websites very high, so these will come up early in searches for your name, so do think carefully about what you post on these. They will be your first impression on anybody "googling" your name.

5. Link all your social media and personal web pages together. Put your LinkedIn link on your Facebook page, with your Twitter link, and make sure it's all copied on all the other web domains you have.

6. Keep it fresh. Try to post fairly regularly. More often is important when you are first establishing your presence in each social media arena, then you can slack a little as you maintain it, but you still have to keep a regular presence.

7. Use a Google Alert to check what people are saying about you. I never thought of this!

8. He discusses various services that offer to repair your reputation, for various prices.

Interesting to consider! You might notice that I haven't linked everything up... The decoration for this blog post is a dramatic illustration from the Quick n Brite blog about a cleaner for showers and baths: - I just thought it made an excellent metaphor for the new ability of European citizens to clean off one little corner of the Internet!

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