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Google under mounting pressure to give U.S. users the ‘right to be forgotten’

A consumer-rights group says it’s the right thing to do.

Now that Europeans have the right to force Google to delete old or inaccurate search results about them, a U.S. privacy group is arguing that Americans should benefit from the same right.

The principle of an online “right to be forgotten” has existed for years, with consumer groups arguing that search engines should get rid of embarrassing, offensive, or outdated content upon request. Europe’s top court turned the idea into law in 2014, ruling that Google had to delete certain search results when Europeans requested it. In the U.S., the right is still just an idea.

Consumer Watchdog wants to change that. It’s asking the Federal Trade Commission to study whether Google should respond to credible deletion requests from Americans like it does for Europeans, and it argues that failure to do so is a violation of U.S. law.

“Google’s refusal to consider such requests in the United States is both unfair and deceptive, violating Section 5 of the Federal Trade Commission Act,” John Simpson, the group’s Privacy Project director, said in a complaint to the FTC. “We urge the Commission to investigate and act.”

An FTC spokesman would not comment on how the agency planned to handle Consumer Watchdog’s request.

“FTC investigations are non-public and we do not confirm or deny the existence of any investigations,” FTC spokesman Jay Mayfield told the Daily Dot. “We welcome complaints from consumers and consumer groups and review them carefully.”

The FTC hasn’t taken a position on the right to be forgotten, but Julie Brill, a Democratic commissioner, called for a version of it in a speech last September. She cited the Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA), which requires credit reports to scrub information—like criminal offenses and debt collections—that has been deemed “obsolete” after a certain period of time.

“Like the FCRA, the people search legislation we recommend would apply to a specific type of information service and define specific obligations to allow consumers to exercise greater control over information about their lives, present and past,” Brill said.

In its complaint, Consumer Watchdog argued that Google was being hypocritical by not extending its privacy protections to search-result privacy.

Google “aggressively and repeatedly holds itself out to users as being deeply committed to privacy,” the group said. “Requesting the removal of a search engine link from one’s name to irrelevant data … is an important privacy option.”

Google has not yet responded to our request for comment.

H/T  Washington Post | Photo via g4ll4is/Flickr (CC BY SA 2.0)

Eric Geller

Eric Geller

Eric Geller is a politics reporter who focuses on cybersecurity, surveillance, encryption, and privacy. A former staff writer at the Daily Dot, Geller joined Politico in June 2016, where he's focused on policymaking at the White House, the Justice Department, the State Department, and the Commerce Department.