Net Neutrality, & The Right to be Forgotten

As the world progresses in technology, we continue to have new decisions to make. One decision that has been on my mind lately is the argument for net neutrality, and it’s effect on search engines. 

According to Wikipedia, Net neutrality is defined as “the principle that Internet service providers and governments should treat all data on the Internet equally, not discriminating or charging differentially by user, content, site, platform, application, type of attached equipment, and modes of communication.” 

In my line of work, I deal with people and companies on a daily basis who are in the unfortunate position of having negative or false allegations present in search engine results pages. I have seen first hand how destructive posts can be. Under the present legislation, websites are not responsible for any information or media online if it is user generated content. This is the body of law that protects Facebook and Twitter. At first glance, this makes intrinsic sense. People have the right to free speech; websites have the right to act as a platform without accepting any liability for the way users employ their rights under the first amendment. The problem arises when websites allow anonymous posts, or refuse to allow users to edit content after it has been posted.  Sometimes this content is in violation of people’s privacy, copyrights, or other applicable laws. Now what? 

Dealing with this situation is time consuming and requires navigation through a grey area of the law. Often, the individual being defamed is at a loss for a way to deal with the situation. Recently, in the European Union, a body of law knows as the “Right to be Forgotten” act was passed into existence and last month, Google announced plans to comply. What this law does is allow individuals who have negative links appearing in search results to petition search engines to remove the links. In other words, it allows individuals to remove links from search results if they meet certain criteria.  While this protects the individual, it is a landmark law in Internet censorship. 

Google’s intention is to add footnotes wherever links have been removed in accordance with this legislation, making it more like a “right to be vaguely remembered.” Nevertheless, this law (and Google’s compliance) has stirred up some debate about net neutrality and the path we are headed down if governments force censorship on information. It seems obvious that there should be some protection for individuals against online attacks. And it seems equally obvious that government sanctioned programs to hinder people’s access to unbiased information have caused poor outcomes for humanity in the past. It will be interesting to see if progressive legislation makes its way west in the coming months.