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The Hidden Cost of Google and Facebook
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The Hidden Cost of Google and Facebook

The European Court of Justice recently ruled that search engines operating in the European Union must honour users&...

The Hidden Cost of Google and Facebook

The European Court of Justice recently ruled that search engines operating in the European Union must honour users’ requests to remove links that violate privacy. The decision was sparked by a Spanish man’s objection to the fact that a search for his name revealed a 1998 news story about his house being repossessed. Understandably, the man did not want the debt that caused him problems 15 years ago to define his online identity today.

 

Google, which has a near monopoly (sorry Bing) on Internet searches, will reportedly start to remove links to content in Europe this month. Google’s new online privacy policy will affect all EU countries, plus Norway, Switzerland, Iceland, and Liechtenstein. Users must fill in an online form listing web links they wish to have removed, providing reasons and photo ID. How many people will bother with that kind of rigmarole is anybody’s guess going forward, but there have been 40,000 takedown requests so far.  It’s not about the numbers, anyway, but rather the basic right to privacy.

 

Privacy or Freedom of Information?

Europe’s “right to be forgotten” ruling is important, whether most people care enough to jump through Google’s hoops to take advantage of it or not. On the other hand, most of us are constantly and voluntarily giving our personal information to Google without knowing exactly how or to what extent. We take advantages of its conveniences without much consideration for the future. Life today means using search engines, having email and social media accounts, and being “Google-able.” If we don’t cultivate online identities, we cut ourselves off from a significant aspect of modern society. Even if we understand, on some level, that so-called “free” services are never that, it doesn’t make it any less creepy when your side bar turns into a buffet of ads on irritable bowel syndrome just because you emailed someone about your stomach ache.

 

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Facebook, never to be outdone when it comes to owning (and selling) your personal info, will reportedly begin starting to collect data on your browsing while you are logged into the social media site, much like Google and Yahoo already do. FB has also stopped honouring “do not track” requests, again following Google and Yahoo. If this makes you irate, there are some ways to prevent being tracked by online advertisers.

 

 

But when it comes to a newspaper article from the 1990’s showing up in a search, it’s not really Google’s fault, is it? They didn’t put it online, the paper did. And, what about my right to snoop, anyway? I might like to know, for example,  if someone offering me a timeshare in Majorca is a grifter or if my landlord has a history of running off with tenants’ deposits. And does the UK interpretation of corporate personhood mean that companies will be able to hide all the horrible things they’ve done in the not-so-distant past?

 

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Not quite, according to CBC News:

 

One of the ironies of the ruling, critics point out, is that while it forces Google to remove links to unflattering material, it can't compel the actual publisher of the content to remove it  from the internet. In other words, the material can still be found online.

 

We don’t want  to facilitate stalking or anything, but if you’re in Europe and you really want to dig up dirt on someone, just use a proxy IP address located outside of the EU.

 

For me, it’s the ads that are more sinister than having my name be searchable. Google even scans kids’ data while they’re using its free education software. The tech giant knows as well as anyone that the quickest way to someone’s wallet is through their kid’s whining.

 

 

Caption: I haven’t been a portion of the Antarctic Peninsula in years.

 

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