Complaint To FTC Says It’s 'Deceptive' For Google To Not Recognize 'Right To Be Forgotten' In US

from the what-the...? dept

If you want an understanding of my general philosophy on business and economics, it’s that companies should focus on serving their customers better. That’s it. It’s a very customer-centric view of capitalism. I think companies that screw over their customers and users will have it come back to bite them, and thus it’s a better strategy for everyone if companies focus on providing good products and services to consumers, without screwing them over. And, I’m super supportive of organizations that focus on holding companies’ feet to the fire when they fail to live up to that promise. Consumerist (owned by Consumer Reports) is really fantastic at this kind of thing, for example. Consumer Watchdog, on the other hand, despite its name, appears to have very little to do with actually protecting consumers’ interests. Instead, it seems like some crazy people who absolutely hate Google, and pretend that they’re “protecting” consumers from Google by attacking the company at every opportunity. If Consumer Watchdog actually had relevant points, that might be useful, but nearly every attack on Google is so ridiculous that all it does is make Consumer Watchdog look like a complete joke and undermine whatever credibility the organization might have.

In the past, we’ve covered an anti-Google video that company put out that contained so many factual errors that it was a complete joke (and was later revealed as nothing more than a stunt to sell some books). Then there was the attempt to argue that Gmail was an illegal wiretap. It’s hard to take the organization seriously when it does that kind of thing.

Its latest, however, takes the crazy to new levels. John Simpson, Consumer Watchdog’s resident “old man yells at cloud” impersonator, recently filed a complaint with the FTC against Google. In it, he not only argues that Google should offer the “Right to be Forgotten” in the US, but says that the failure to do that is an “unfair and deceptive practice.” Really.

As you know by now, since an EU court ruling last year, Google has been forced to enable a right to be forgotten in the EU, in which it will “delink” certain results from the searches on certain names, if the people argue that the links are no longer “relevant.” Some in the EU have been pressing Google to make that “right to be forgotten” global — which Google refuses to do, noting that it would violate the First Amendment in the US and would allow the most restrictive, anti-free speech regime in the world to censor the global internet.

But, apparently John Simpson likes censorship and supporting free speech-destroying regimes. Because he argues Google must allow such censorship in the US. How could Google’s refusal to implement “right to be forgotten” possibly be “deceptive”? Well, in Simpson’s world, it’s because Google presents itself as “being deeply committed to privacy” but then doesn’t abide by a global right to be forgotten. Really.

?The Internet giant aggressively and repeatedly holds itself out to users as being deeply committed to privacy. Without a doubt requesting the removal of a search engine link from one?s name to irrelevant data under the Right To Be Forgotten (or Right to Relevancy) is an important privacy option,? Consumer Watchdog?s complaint said. ?Though Google claims it is concerned about users? privacy, it does not offer U.S. users the ability to make such a basic request. Describing yourself as championing users? privacy and not offering a key privacy tool ? indeed one offered all across Europe ? is deceptive behavior.?

That’s, uh, not how this all works. In his complaint to the FTC, Simpson’s theory is laid out in all its kooky nuttiness. Basically, because in the past we didn’t have technology, and things would get forgotten thanks to obscurity — and because Google claims to support privacy, it must magically pretend that we still live in such an age, and agree to forget stuff people want it to forget. He’d also, apparently, like Google to get off his lawn.

Here is why the Right To Be Forgotten ? or Right of Relevancy ? is so important to protecting consumers? privacy in the digital age: Before the Internet if someone did something foolish when they were young ? and most of us probably did ? there might well be a public record of what happened. Over time, as they aged, people tended to forget whatever embarrassing things someone did in their youth. They would be judged mostly based on their current circumstances, not on information no longer relevant. If someone else were highly motivated, they could go back into paper files and folders and dig up a person?s past. Usually this required effort and motivation. For a reporter, for instance, this sort of deep digging was routine with, say, candidates for public office, not for Joe Blow citizen. This reality that our youthful indiscretions and embarrassments and other matters no longer relevant slipped from the general public?s consciousness is Privacy By Obscurity. The Digital Age has ended that. Everything ? all our digital footprints ? are instantly available with a few clicks on a computer or taps on a mobile device.

[….]

Google?s anti-consumer behavior around privacy issues is deceptive. The Internet giant holds itself out to be committed to users? privacy, but does not honor requests that provide a key privacy protection. Google explains: ?We know security and privacy are important to you ? and they are important to us, too. We make it a priority to provide strong security and give you confidence that your information is safe and accessible when you need it. We?re constantly working to ensure strong security, protect your privacy, and make Google even more effective and efficient for you.? Recently Google said, ?Protecting the privacy and security of our customers? information is a top priority, and we take compliance very seriously.? In its Privacy & Terms Technologies and Principles Google claims, ?We comply with privacy laws, and additionally work internally and with regulators and industry partners to develop and implement strong privacy standards? People have different privacy concerns and needs. To best serve the full range of our users, Google strives to offer them meaningful and fine-gained choices over the use of their personal information.?

In other words the Internet giant aggressively and repeatedly holds itself out to users as being deeply committed to privacy. Without a doubt requesting the removal of a search engine link from one?s name to irrelevant data under the Right To Be Forgotten (or Right to Relevancy) is an important privacy option. Though Google claims it is concerned about users? privacy, it does not offer U.S. users the ability to make this basic request. Describing yourself as championing users? privacy while not offering a key privacy tool ? indeed one offered all across Europe ? is deceptive behavior.

This is an absolutely insane interpretation of “deceptive.” A company that supports user privacy is not being deceptive just because its definition of privacy doesn’t match your crazy definition. It’s just a different policy. If Google had flat out said that it would support a “right to be forgotten” in the US and then refused to process any requests, that would be deceptive. But accurately stating what the company does is not deceptive, no matter what Simpson seems to think.

What about the “unfair” part of “unfair and deceptive”? I honestly can’t summarize the logic because there is none. Apparently, some people might not like what searches on their name turn up, and that’s bad and thus… unfair?

Not offering Americans a basic privacy tool, while providing it to millions of users across Europe, is also an unfair practice. Acts or practices by a business are unfair under Section 5 of the Federal Trade Commission Act if they cause or are likely to cause substantial injury to consumers that consumers cannot reasonably avoid themselves and that is not outweighed by countervailing benefits to consumers or competition.6 Here are some examples of people who have been harmed by Google?s refusal to honor Right of Relevancy or Right To Be Forgotten removal requests in the United States. Clearly there is no countervailing benefit in continuing to link to the items from search results. Consider these examples:

  • A young California woman was decapitated in a tragic auto accident. Photos from the grisly accident scene were wrongfully leaked by California Highway Patrol officers and posted to the Internet. A search on her name still returns the horrible photographs.
  • 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.

I don’t see how any of this is “protecting consumers.” It’s seems quite the opposite, actually. It seems to be assuming that the public is made up of pure idiots who can’t ever figure out context or understand that sometimes bad things happen. But that’s not true. People learn and adapt and adjust to new technologies, even as people like John Simpson fear them. When cameras first started becoming popular they were banned from beaches because people might take photographs of other people there. But people grew up and realized that wasn’t destroying anyone’s privacy. Simpson has this weird infatuation not with protecting consumers, but with censoring the internet to keep the public from knowing factual information, because apparently he thinks the public can’t handle it.

Last week, on On The Media, host Bob Garfield pointed out to Simpson how ridiculous all of this was, and Simpson doesn’t have a single reasonable response. Garfield points out that public information, even embarrassing public information, is, by definition, not private information, and thus there’s no privacy violation here. And all Simpson can do is pull his nostalgia gig about how things used to be different when people would forget your embarrassing things in the past. But that doesn’t answer the question at all. It just makes Simpson seem totally out of touch with the modern world.

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Comments on “Complaint To FTC Says It’s 'Deceptive' For Google To Not Recognize 'Right To Be Forgotten' In US”

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51 Comments
mcinsand (profile) says:

Re: sounds like built-in privacy

Sounds like your parents stumbled on a great way to build in a shield for your privacy. Perhaps a less expensive way for those that want to be forgotten would be a name change and a PO box. Many states have a Springfield, Smithfield, or whatever, and, if privacy is that important, get a PO box there. Then, change your name to John or Johanna Smith, Bob Roberts, Darrin Stevens, Bugs Bunny, or any other name guaranteed to generate a bazillion hits.

If you’re Google privacy is that important, take advantage of how Google works!

Anonymous Coward says:

Photos from the grisly accident scene were wrongfully leaked by California Highway Patrol officers…

Hmmm…so this is Google’s fault?

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.

So what the guidance counselor did was perfectly legal, since she was in fact, an adult. Yet the school fired her because of it, and THIS is also Google’s fault?

SMH

Anonymous Coward says:

"companies should focus on serving their customers better" -- But I'm not Google's customer! I'm it's PRODUCT.

Google gets money from other corporations (and NSA) by selling our details. Though I make every effort I know to keep out of Google’s view, it STILL gets and sells what can without MY consent.

With that proper view of who Google’s “customers” and who its privacy-less victims are, then you’re yet again exposed as a corporatist. You do not care about the public’s right to privacy from legal fictions; you actually believe that corporations have rights superior to persons.

And so your rant here is serving your corporate masters. — Indeed, Google funds you directly. Take the “Copia” link, people. This is NOT impartial opinion. It’s amazing that even your fanboys let you get away with not mentioning that in EVERY Google piece, especially when defending. It’s DECEPTIVE OF YOU to not state it.

Next pro-corporatocracy piece, please.


FIFTH attempt to comment!

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: "companies should focus on serving their customers better" -- But I'm not Google's customer! I'm it's PRODUCT.

Presumably, if you put it on the Internet, it’s not meant to be private, no?
So if you want Google to stop monetizing on YOUR privacy, then you simply need to keep YOUR shit private.

Not hard at all, really.

Makes me wonder why such a simple solution eluded you for so long…

JMT says:

Re: Re: Re: "companies should focus on serving their customers better" -- But I'm not Google's customer! I'm it's PRODUCT.

Not necessarily true. There are plenty of situations where you might want be able to post on the internet and still retain your privacy. Plenty of people participate in online discussion groups and do not want their postings to go beyond a trusted community. Ashley Madison leaps to mind obviously but there are plenty of far less controversial examples. It would be a pretty sad world if we had to give up one of the greatest things about the internet – communicating with like minds – because we all decided it was too difficult to retain a level of privacy.

John Fenderson (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: "companies should focus on serving their customers better" -- But I'm not Google's customer! I'm it's PRODUCT.

“Presumably, if you put it on the Internet, it’s not meant to be private, no?”

Depends on where on the internet you put it. There are plenty of spaces on the internet that are intended to be completely private.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: "companies should focus on serving their customers better" -- But I'm not Google's customer! I'm it's PRODUCT.

block these ip ranges
ip4:64.18.0.0/20
ip4:64.233.160.0/19
ip4:66.102.0.0/20
ip4:66.249.80.0/20
ip4:72.14.192.0/18
ip4:74.125.0.0/16
ip4:108.177.8.0/21
ip4:173.194.0.0/16
ip4:207.126.144.0/20
ip4:209.85.128.0/17
ip4:216.58.192.0/19
ip4:216.239.32.0/19
ip6:2001:4860:4000::/36
ip6:2404:6800:4000::/36
ip6:2607:f8b0:4000::/36
ip6:2800:3f0:4000::/36
ip6:2a00:1450:4000::/36
ip6:2c0f:fb50:4000::/36

and google is no more

DannyB (profile) says:

Re: Re: "companies should focus on serving their customers better" -- But I'm not Google's customer! I'm it's PRODUCT.

Why would I want to block the IP ranges of a company that gives me a superior internet experience in exchange for showing me targeted ads?

Google’s ads, unlike almost all others, are surprisingly un-obnoxious.

tqk (profile) says:

Re: Ha, haaaaa! :-)

FIFTH attempt to comment!

What a nutbar! What an imbecile! What an ultra-maroon!

I’m sure you can find some ambulance chaser who’ll sue Google for stalking you. What are you waiting for? Oh, wait. That’ll wind up making yourself even more (in)famous.

Ah, do it anyway! What’ve you got to lose? It’s not like anyone’s ignorant of your shortcomings by now. Google’s telling the whole world (and the aliens listening in) what you’ve been up to all along! Aiiiiee!!!

ArkieGuy (profile) says:

Define "customer"

I have a couple of thoughts on this:

First, the customer of a search engine is the person SEARCHING, not the person whose name is searched for. When Google says it protects its customers information, it is talking about people who sign up with Google for Google services. It’s not talking about names it has listed in search results.

Second, Google is only indexing what is SOMEWHERE ELSE ON THE INTERNET!!! If you think you have the “right to be forgotten”, you need to contact the company / site that has the information and have THEM remove the info from the internet then it will quit being indexed by Google.

Blaming Google for doing exactly what it is there to do seems disingenuous at best.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Define "customer"

…the customer of a search engine is the person SEARCHING…

Unless the person searching has signed into an account the search engine won’t know the identity of the actual person searching. It is not unusual for several people to share a PC or tablet; thus unless there is a login identifier the search engine only knows what was being searched. And it is not unusual for a person to use a friend’s PC or tablet or smart phone to do a search. Trying to develop a marketing profile based solely on search terms is problematic at best. At worst advertisers will waste money trying to advertise to the wrong market(s). I still chuckle when I get an ad from a business that’s 2-3 hours driving time away from me because they think I live in those neighborhoods.

Anonymous Coward says:

it’s more deceptive of those who do naughty things and demand them ‘to be forgotten’ in order to keep them or their families or companies, whatever out of the picture rather than let the world know what happened and hold the person(s) accountable! isn’t this another way of keeping the people from knowing what a bunch of lying, cheating, two-faced ass holes politicians and company bosses are? they want to be able to do any number of unspeakable things but dont want to be help to account for what they did!!

Sheogorath (profile) says:

Consumer Watchdog, on the other hand, despite its name, appears to have very little to do with actually protecting consumers’ interests. Instead, it seems like some crazy people who absolutely hate Google, and pretend that they’re “protecting” consumers from Google by attacking the company at every opportunity.
Oh, yeah. I think some of their members accuse Mike of being a Google shill whenever someone (not always Mike) writes an article about the company, good or bad.

Anonymous Coward says:

Well we need to find the dirt on John, time for techdirt followers to find the things John want to be forgotten, they must be a doozie if he thinks the right to be forgotten is a voluntary feature in Europe.

What is John Hiding? What is he scared of? Is he a secret Crossdresser, does he love Hitler? Is it worse than that? Guess we should find out, as usually the one who screams the loudest is the one who has the most to hide.

Mason Wheeler (profile) says:

A young California woman was decapitated in a tragic auto accident. Photos from the grisly accident scene were wrongfully leaked by California Highway Patrol officers and posted to the Internet. A search on her name still returns the horrible photographs.

As tragic and disgusting as that is… how is it at all relevant (yes, that important word cuts both ways) to the question at hand? The thing about decapitation victims is, they’re dead, and so there’s really not much a modification of search engine results can do to improve their life.

tqk (profile) says:

Methinks the lady doth protest too much.

And all Simpson can do is pull his nostalgia gig about how things used to be different when people would forget your embarrassing things in the past. But that doesn’t answer the question at all. It just makes Simpson seem totally out of touch with the modern world.

Actually, it makes me curious as to what in his past Simpson is hoping will stay hidden. What’s he been up to, I wonder?

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