Thought Bubble: Google’s ‘Right to be forgotten’

June 17, 2014
5 min read

Thought Bubble is a regular feature on the Mintel blog highlighting multiple viewpoints on one topic from Mintel’s team of expert analysts around the globe.

Accessibility of personal information on the web has in recent years become an increasingly contentious issue. With the news that the EU has enforced Google to implement a ‘right to be forgotten’ initiative through which Europeans can request to have their personal data removed from search results if the link is ‘irrelevant, outdated, or otherwise inappropriate’, Mintel analysts from different parts of the globe weigh in on how this ruling will impact online activity going forward.

Stacy_Glasgow_blogSam Gee, Senior Technology and Media Analyst:

The EU ruling against Google appears to be primarily underpinned by political motivations. In an environment where all the major internet firms holding European citizens’ data are based in the US, the EU is looking to re-exert some control over the digital rights of its members. This desire has no doubt been lent some urgency by the 2013 furore over the NSA scandal.

The problem is that while the “right to be forgotten” sounds desirable to the average consumer, information that people want to be removed must be shown by the individual to be “outdated, irrelevant or otherwise inappropriate”; exceptionally wide-ranging terms that could potentially be argued ad nauseam. The ruling is additionally subject to abuse – two of the first requests that Google received were from an individual running for political office, requesting that news reports on his past behaviour whilst in office were removed, and a doctor requesting that poor reviews of his practice were removed. There is an obvious public benefit to this information remaining available.

Ultimately there will always be information that consumers find embarrassing or awkward to have in the public domain, and there is certainly a cultural adaptation that needs to be made now we live in a world of permanently visible, searchable data. That adaptation may well feature legislative change – but if it does, it needs to be implemented on a granular scale, with consumers, individual companies and governments reaching equitable agreements on data privacy and retention.

Stacy_Glasgow_blogRichard Cope, Senior Trends Consultant:

We’re seeing how corporate and political concerns around data privacy are now spilling over into the consumer space. Post NSA, we’ve seen how non-US companies are concerned about working with US -based cloud service providers, while the European Commission continues to press the case for a secure ‘EU Cloud’, and this isn’t going unnoticed by consumers. The imminent arrival of Google Glass has crystallized the debate around data integrity and privacy and made consumers more conscious of how they’re being surveilled and what their rights are – or should be.

Mintel’s data shows that consumers are increasingly concerned about things like online advertising based upon their browsing history, and whilst we’re hardly expecting a flight from Google, the onset of search engines like Duck Duck Go – which doesn’t track searches or collect data for advertisers – shows that there are alternatives. In an ageing society, data privacy and data legacy will become more important issues and with more people dying, our digital affairs will need to be tied up as securely as possible.

Stacy_Glasgow_blogBryant Harland, Technology Research Analyst:

The EU has traditionally been more vigilant about digital privacy than the US. However, the ramifications of international legislative pressure are often still felt by US companies. One example of a sweeping privacy change came from Google toward the end of 2013. The company began encrypting all of its search data, making it more difficult for website owners to retrieve keyword referral information – thus making it more difficult for content marketers to measure the effectiveness of different keywords.

Although not necessarily a direct reaction to a particular ruling, Google’s decision shows that technology companies, especially those that operate internationally, are aware of and reacting to privacy concerns. It is unlikely that the US will enforce rulings of the same scope as the EU’s right to be forgotten in the short term, but US businesses have already faced legislative pressure due to heightened attention toward privacy. The FTC began more aggressively enforcing the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act in May 2014, showing that US officials are willing to hold companies that collect consumers’ personal data to task.

As more attention turns toward privacy, consumers may also begin to expect more from the companies that collect, store or publish information about them. One of the main selling points behind the social messaging service Snapchat is that it deletes messages several seconds after the recipient views them. As a result, part of Snapchat’s rising popularity is likely a reaction to companies that consumers view as less conscious or less vigilant about data privacy.

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Samuel researches and writes Mintel’s consumer technology reports, investigating market trends and consumer attitudes. Prior to joining Mintel in 2011, he worked for an IT services company in London, providing support to clients in a wide range of industries and global locations. He has a BA Hons in Philosophy.

Richard has ten years’ experience at Mintel and excels in identifying consumer trends and applying them for clients. As Managing Editor of our trend content, he has been expanding Inspire’s coverage across the Asia Pacific region and feeding back our findings to colleagues and clients in the west. A regular speaker, he has represented Mintel at conferences in Philadelphia, Aruba, Whistler and London and made media appearances on CNN, and BBC TV and Radio.

Bryant Harland brings almost a decade of experience working in the tech arena, most recently as a Senior Technology Writer with Brafton News, where he oversaw the editorial team, wrote as a trade journalist and prepared a range of industry white papers.


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