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Jonathan Nace
Jonathan Nace
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Consumer Watchdog Files Complaint Against Google

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The non-profit consumer advocate Consumer Watchdog filed a complaint today with the Federal Trade Commission regarding Google’s search engine practices.

Google’s failure to offer U.S. users the ability to request the removal of search engine links from their name to information that is inadequate, irrelevant, no longer relevant, or excessive is an “unfair and deceptive” practice, Consumer Watchdog said in a complaint today to the Federal Trade Commission.

Essentially, Consumer Watchdog is concerned about some of the unchecked power that Google’s search engine has in its ability to gather and assimilate data on any individual.  This is the type of concern that led Europe to issue its “right to be forgotten” proclamation.  The European Union and its member states operate under a different framework for protecting privacy throughout the European Union.  The goal of the European Commission’s proclamation is to allow individuals to delete information about them that can be found on search engines, such as www.google.com.  The European Commission early fact sheet states:

In practice, a search engine will have to delete information when it receives a specific request from a person affected. This would mean that a citizen, whose personal data appears in search results linking to other webpages when a search is done with that person’s name, requests the removal of those links. For example, John Smith will be allowed to request Google to delete all search links to webpages containing his data, when one enters the search query ‘John Smith’ in the Google search box.

Consumer Watchdog would apparently like to bring this right to the U.S., where the freedom of expression and to speech are more protected.  But, Google apparently has disagreed:

Google’s recent announcement that it would honor requests to remove links from its search results to so-called “revenge porn” – nude or explicit photos posted without the subject’s consent – shows that Google could easily honor Right To Be Forgotten requests in the U.S., Simpson said.

Consumer Watchdog has focused on the “deceptive claims” that Google has made in proclaiming that it is concerned about user’s privacy.  In support of its complaint, Consumer Watchdog cites a woman who was fired by her employer do to twenty year old photos of her found on the internet:

A guidance counselor was fired in 2012 after modeling photos from 20 years prior surfaced. She was a lingerie model between the ages of 18-20, and she had disclosed her prior career when she first was hired. Despite this, when a photo was found online and shown to the principal of her school, she was fired.

It is one of several compelling stories told about Google’s search engine’s power to assimilate and make available information on anyone.  But there may be other ways to hold Google accountable instead of filing complaints with the FTC.  In particular, if you’ve had trouble with employment or obtaining credit due to Google search engine results, then there may be options you have that could also have widespread impact on individual privacy in the U.S.