If you're unaware that the internet is having a renewed interest in privacy, then you have not been following the news. Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg spent part of the week in front of Congress because another company violated Facebook's terms of service. It has reminded people that many people regularly give personal information to a small number of companies, particularly Facebook and Twitter.
However, some companies collect a lot of information about us without us having to give it over. Google collects information about your browsing history, and browses the web on its own looking for information about any and all subjects. The browsing is what powers their primary service, Google Search. However, there are a lot of people who have done stupid things that have been immortalized by the internet and made searchable by Google.
In the European Union, a program called the Right to be Forgotten was implemented by Google, Bing, Yahoo and more. This program allows a person to petition the search engines to remove a listing that creates personal harm. None of the companies were keep to implement this ability, as it directly affects the quality of the search index, which means that the value of the search results is lowered.
Of course, there are a lot of incidents that don't need to be preserved. College applicants lose out on school because of a photo on Instagram. Job applicants lose out on a career because of something they posted on Facebook. But some information is entirely public, and therefore should be searchable. For example, if you have an arrest record, it's easy to find that information. Here in the Tampa Bay area, the counties themselves provide a way to look up arrest information.
In the UK, a suit was filed against Google by two in-named men, referred to as NT1 and NT2, for the company refusing to remove information from their search index upon request. Both of these men had arrest records and convictions: NT1 was convicted in the early 90s for conspiracy to account falsely, and NT2 was convicted in the early 2000s for conspiracy to intercept communications. Both of these men wanted Google to remove any reference to these convictions from the search results.
The case was closed this past Friday, with Mr. Justice Warby insisting that Google remove the results of NT2, but not NT1. The judge believed that the information about NT1 was of public interest, while the information about NT2 was not. Obviously, this decision will see appeals, and it is possible that the ruling will not stand. If it does, it will create a swarm of new cases in the EU of people with convictions hoping to make the internet forget.