Will the “Right to Be Forgotten” End in the EU?

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Google is refusing to follow a French Ruling that is asking to delete records globally, each time an individual requests the right to be forgotten. The company is clarifying its stand saying that the European ruling of Right to Be Forgotten should not be applied globally. By not following the ruling, Google might be inviting trouble and is likely to be fined for its stand.

CINIL, the data protection authority in France, made the order on the basis of the European court ruling that Google will have to delete irrelevant and outdated information when it receives a request from the individual or organization. Since the ruling, Google has received millions of requests and even cleared many of them. But it is refusing to accept the order that asks it to remove the name from the global list, arguing that the search is already being routed locally.

Google has further pointed out that one country should not have the authority to decide and control what content users in another country can find and access. The company notes that such a measure isn’t necessary, because as much as 97% of Internet users in France access a European version of Google’s search engine.

Google argues in a new post on its official blog for Europe: If the CNIL were to get its way, “the Internet would only be as free as the world’s least free place.”

The British Are Coming

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I’m a huge theater geek. Every time I visit New York, I stay as close to Broadway as possible and have been known to see a show a night for the entire trip. It’s not exactly a cheap hobby, but you do see some terrific stuff. Last night, I swapped Game of Thrones for the Tony’s and settled in for the usual cavalcade of “luvvy” fun watching a rich whitey award talented young things. By the way, what on earth prompted them to put Kristin Chenoweth in charge of anything? Let alone half the hosting duties. Fortunately, the writing was strong and she was there mostly as a punch line. But really, that was the best we could do?

It started with Helen Mirren and got progressively more and more British as the evening wore on. It’s tough to get more British than Helen Mirren, but somehow they succeeded. In category after category, the large glossy American shows and plays were aced out by edgy Brit fare. It was almost weird to watch. Plays like Fun Home and The Curious Case of The Dog in the Night pretty much swept the board. The Brits also won the categories they don’t typically feature on the show, like design and staging.

The stuff that did the best was by no means typical Broadway. It was dark, edgy, disturbing and, in most cases, pretty low budget. It was as if the powers that be just had enough of the glittery stuff. Speaking of glitter, I was delighted to see that John Cameron Mitchel — the creator of the show I have seen more than any other, Hedwig and the Angry Inch — was given his own special award. Having won a bunch of Tonys (including best revival of a musical last year), it didn’t seem like he was missing one. But perhaps it was special recognition for soldiering on with a knee brace, having broken his ACL on stage in the current run. A theatrical Purple Heart maybe.

There is some very cool looking large-scale and edgy US material currently burning up Broadway. If I was a gambling man, I’d have $50 on the hip hop musical about our founding fathers, Hamilton, sweeping next year’s crop. I was trying to get tickets last night, and there was nothing available until late July. Either way, last night it was cool to be a theater-mad Brit. Now, if we could only make more great movies.

It Just Got Real in the EU

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It’s fair to say that a good number of folk in Europe just hate Google.

I was selling search to European web sites and portals back in the early 2000s. As I recall, we charged 65c per thousand queries answered. Back then, there was an upstart search company called Google that was powering Yahoo and had a web site with no ads on it. My then company was doing really well at selling search; so well, in fact, that Yahoo bought them for something over $100MM. Then Google came up with a new and remarkable sales strategy: they started giving search away for free. In addition, they said that they would pay the portals if they could run ads on their results pages. As you can imagine, it was a pretty successful offer.

I clearly remember having conversations with clients along the lines of, “If you go with Google, it will be cheaper initially. But people will quickly realize that they are behind your search, and they will go to Google directly. Their site is extremely fast and doesn’t have all those horrible, slow-to-load ads you slather all over your site.” My words fell on deaf ears, and now Google controls over 90% of the entire European market.

 

It’s this over-arching monopoly that sticks in the craw of many EU legislators, and they have been firing warning shots over Google’s bow for several years. Absent of a settlement, the EU ministers have now filed suit against Google for monopoly practices. To the American observer, this looks like something between sour grapes and silliness. If you don’t like Google, then use something else.

The suit alleges that Google favors its own shopping results over those of competitors. The EU has limited the scope of the argument to just that— partly because it’s blindingly clear that is exactly what Google is doing and partly to get the case done quickly. Europe takes a dim view of monopolistic behavior. Dominant companies have a duty to ensure that they don’t exploit their positions.

Google is a voracious competitor, entirely not the goofy-friendly company they try to position themselves as in the US. Their argument that the Internet is a big place and nobody forces you to use Google might seem fair enough to an American viewer, but likely won’t cut it in Europe.

If this goes all the way and Google loses, the company will likely find itself on the wrong side of a fine for six billion dollars (or more). Beyond just the fiscal pain, they will also likely have to make significant concessions to avoid further cases. Google hates that kind of situation. When the Spanish government tried to force Google to pay for news stories they indexed from newspaper sites, they shut down the Spanish news search entirely. It will be interesting to see where this ends up.

The King is Dead

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There are a handful of high profile guys who are at or about my age. I’m exactly the same age as Colin Firth, I’m a day older than Hugh Grant, I’m a couple of months older the  Neil Gamin and a few months younger than Jeremy Clarkson. These folk are like portraits of Dorian Grey to me. I watch them age and progress and can’t help but measure myself against them…at-least in terms of grey hair and waist line.

So it was with some sorrow that I learned that one of my portraits fell off the wall the other day. Jeremy Clarkson is clearly a bit of an SOB. He’s hosted Top Gear (the BBC’s most successful show world wide) since 1998 and following a punch up he started with a show producer the other day he’s now the ex-host of the BBC’s most successful show. I love Top Gear, I love car shows in general but Top Gear goes well beyond just being a car show…it’s a institution. Clarkson was the clever, funny, snarky, mean host who took no prisoners and his audience loved him. He epitomized the angry white guy who loves cars and can’t stand or understand much of the world that surrounds him. Unfortunately he was also a bad tempered tall guy with a serious streak of entitlement and more than a smattering of casual racism. Until recently he’s been able to skate on various allegations of extreme rudeness and casual racism simply because he is beloved in 17 countries around the world and the $250M the BBC makes out of the show got him a lot of rope.

His latest escapade, in which he insulted then assaulted a producer who had the effrontery to provide a cold meal rather than the hot one we felt he needed was clearly the last straw. The BBC understandably felt that nobody (not even Clarkson) is above the law and they had to fire him. He clearly over stepped the mark and you can see the Beebs point of view…but it’s still a huge disappointment. Top Gear was one of the few places on the BBC where political correctness and beige thinking so prevalent both on the BBC and in society was mocked with tongue planted firmly in cheek. Clarkson called BS on what he saw as BS. He hated the ‘Nanny State’ mentality where everything is regulated and frowned upon. He wanted a world where middle class white guys could drive huge cars as fast as they wanted, where “ladies” knew their place and “damn foreigners” were seen but not heard. It was funny to hear him fume and rant…but when parody became punching out a producer, he was done.

Close to a million Brits signed an online petition to get him his job back and a handful of knuckleheads resorted to threats against the guy he punched out. I have no way of telling, but I’m reasonably sure the demographic of the petitioners skews towards white, middle class men who also feel put upon, disenfranchised and thoroughly annoyed by the Nanny State.

As I look at the remaining portraits in my Dorian Grey hall of fame, I don’t see quite the same anger and frustration which drove Clarkson. They seem to be more or less routinely charming, affable, witty guys who (aside from a couple of minor indiscretions)  have grown older with a level of grace. We will miss you Mr. Clarkson…..you idiot!

The right to search?

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It’s a weird thing, how we have come to think of search as some kind of inalienable human right…like life liberty and the pursuit of happiness. It’s not.  There is no God given right for anything to be indexed or made search-able and there is no right or requirement to put any result anywhere. This issue has been a recurring theme throughout this year. Although the authorities in the US have consistently ruled on the side of Google against those calling foul over monopoly various European bodies have continued to attempt to fine Google or force them to return results differently. Perhaps the highest profile of these spats was the “right to be forgotten” and only this week Google unceremoniously booted all Spanish news content from its news index (although much of it can still be found in the main Spanish search).

Google is not touting a “buy it now” feature on its shopping search to retailers to allow end users the kind of one click ordering straight from the search results page which would be similar to what we have come to know and love from Amazon. Google has also been layering other kinds of offers around and above the inevitable Amazon result for almost any shipping search you care to carryout. No sooner has this feature come to light then the usual suspects are once again are yelling monopoly.

I have nothing against Amazon, I’m a constant Prime user, but I wouldn’t be offended if the Amazon result was pushed down in the search result…because I know I can always go straight to Amazon. Search is notoriously tough to do well and love them or hate them Google does it very well. Having said that it’s also voluntary…if various world governments want to force Google to publish their algorithms or force them to pay for news snippets I expect Google to respond as they did this week by simply shutting down that part of the service in that part of the world.

Google is too big to be stopped and on the whole does an amazing job. Are they an evil monopoly…maybe…but they are very good at being that. This year coming I expect to see either a bunch of potential trade disputes over search to gently fade away or a bunch of countries loosing access to the best search out there. It will be interesting to see who blinks first.

Hold the Front Page

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Google is locking Spanish publishers out of its popular Google News service in response to a new Spanish law that imposes fees for linking to the headlines and news stories on other websites.

Besides closing Google News in Spain, Google Inc. also is blocking reports from Spanish publishers in the more than other 70 other international editions packaged by Google News. Google News’ exile of Spanish publishers begins Dec. 16, a couple weeks before the start of a Spanish intellectual-property law requiring news publishers to be paid for their content, even if they are willing to give it away.

That means people in Latin America, where Spanish news organizations have sought to boost their digital audiences, won’t see news from Spain via Google News. Also set to disappear are reports in English from Spanish publishers like Madrid’s leading El Pais newspaper.

The lost access to Google News will likely make it more difficult for people to keep afloat on what it is happening in Spain. Spanish publishers also may lose a valuable source of traffic to their websites. Google says its main search engine and other services generate more than 10 billion monthly clicks that send Web surfers to other news sites throughout the world. Google News accounts for about 10 percent, or 1 billion clicks, of that worldwide volume.

Spain’s new law is designed to create a new source of revenue for the country’s publishers, who, like most of their peers around the world, have been hard hit as more readers and advertisers have abandoned printed editions for digital alternatives during the past decade.

The shift has hurt news publishers because digital ads aren’t nearly as lucrative as print ads. But the linking fees could now backfire if the lost access to Google News diminishes the traffic to Spanish news publishers, making it even more difficult for them to sell digital ads.

Even though Google News doesn’t display ads, it still helps Google make more money by deepening people’s loyalty to its products. The ads that Google distributes through its other services and other websites, including those run by news publishers, account for most of the company’s projected revenue of $66 billion this year.

Germany…Really?

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Anyone who has ever strayed into the more exotic/weird areas of human sexuality could readily conclude that the Germans are nuts. Don’t get me wrong, I like Germany and Germans. I’ve done a lot of business with Germany, I even speak passable “three beer” german none of which changes my view….nuts to a person. If you ever wanted the perfect illustration of just how nutty Germany can be you need look no further than german justice minister Heiko Maas who has declared that in the interests of “consumer protection” that Google should reveal exactly how their search algorithms work.  As I type that it’s hard to not actually LOL.  The almost obsessive dislike verging into hatred of Google by many EU officials is famous. If they spent half the time they do trying to curb Google fixing their economy the EU wouldn’t be the fragile mess it is now. Yet they chip away at Google looking for any crack they can. Google is no doubt huge and powerful and holds about 90% of the EU market but they don’t have to use it…there are other search engines and email providers. If you use it, you don’t have to click on the ads either.

Suggesting that Google reveal in detail exactly how the sausage is made is absurd at so many levels. Spammers have spent decades trying to figure that out. Google (much like God) is all powerful and ineffable. Larry Page will stop serving Germany before he will reveal a line of code to an EU bureaucrat. Of course they won’t show what’s behind the green curtain. Even as the EU continues to peck away at Google with various regulatory or legal assaults there are probably some people over at the GooglePlex who are wondering why they bother. Were Google.de to shut down tomorrow the vast majority of current users would simply point their browsers at Google.com and the browser language options would do the rest. The electrons may have to go a little further..but hey it’s the speed of light so it’s not going to take that much longer.Yes, they are a monopoly and yes they have too much power and yes they are (the worst offense) american…but Herr Maas if you don’t use it your lights will stay on, the water will remain in your pipes and life will continue. Please find a different windmill to tilt at.

We do not like you Google Man!

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When it comes to the European Union, the Google crew could be forgiven for getting that “Green Eggs and Ham” feeling. Not in a box not with a fox…there is simply no way that the regulators and gate keepers of traditional media in the EU can bear to put up with Google. Back in the day (the early 2000s to be exact) Google didn’t have the kind of strangle hold it currently enjoys.  Nowadays over 90% of all search done in the EU is done on Google.  There is a reason for this. The short answer is offering great search across the many languages represented in Europe is tough. Gathering and making sense of that data is hard and the linguistic complexity makes it harder. Pretty much alone in the world Google has the tech muscle needed to pull that off…so understandably people tend to use Google almost to the exclusion of all others. That in of itself generates a virtuous circle because the advertisers follow the traffic which in turn starves potential rivals of revenue.

The other factor is the kind of zealous nationalism which has been such a successful contributor to world peace in the last hundred or so years.  Put succinctly many in the EU are getting pretty sick of what they perceive to be US bullies telling them what to do. Google is the posterchild and lightening rod for this kind of envy.

It manifests most obviously in the drum beat of calls for Google to undergo the kind of interrogation and perhaps disassembly as Standard Oil or AT&T went through. Regulators and rivals call foul and demand that Google level the playing field…or that governments do that for them. Google makes grudging concessions often linked to approaches which actually ultimately improves their position none of which endears them to the suspicious. You can see where the concerns come from, Google US revenue is greater than a good few members of the EU…like Belgium or Croatia. Google is also perceived as one of the gatekeepers of the new tech age, arrogant and un answerable to any higher authority.  I have a strong suspicion that it’s that “you can’t touch me” or “you need us more than we need you” arrogance which all things US get tarred with on occasion which is driving this at the core.

The cat’s out of the bag

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When the EU recently ruled against Google on a person’s “right to be forgotten” and Google complied with the ruling in a reasonable and scalable way it was clear (to me anyway) that all hell was going to break out. It’s taken a few weeks …but it’s happening. The latest example of legal imbroglio comes from Hong Kong where a Movie maker is suing to have Google remove the autocomplete for their name as it links them to triad gang names. I guess it’s a bit like if you typed in 20th Century Fox and Google suggested the rest of the query should be “20th Century Fox Gambino Family” I could see how that would get annoying…whether or not there is any actual linkage.

This isn’t the first time Google has had problems like this, various EU jurisdictions have required they remove various autocomplete such as the one in Germany which linked “Scientology” to “Fraud”. I happen to think that one is perfectly fair comment…but that’s another blog…or see my reviews of some Scientology books on Audible http://bit.ly/1sgSBsx and http://bit.ly/1orvqI8 . In any event Google has always claimed that autocomplete is a purely algorithmic feature which they have no control over and thus no obligation to edit. Now the right to be forgotten precedent has been so clearly established it’s pretty simple to point to it and say if you can edit for that you can edit for this which has pretty much the same end result…in effect a right “not to be suggested”.

The search engines have sheltered behind the Digital Millennium Copyright Act in the US for the past 15 years. They have also relied on their enormous political sway to steer clear legal assault in the US. Clearly the rest of the world isn’t buying it and we can expect hundreds of thousands more requests to be forgotten and many other law suits with related issues all based on the right not to be remembered…or suggested.

Oh Those Spaniards

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I have mentioned many times that Google is seen as public enemy #1 in many parts of the EU.  It personifies American avarice and digital monopoly.  Various EU courts have gone after it and occasionally they win…witness the recent goofy “right to be forgotten” hoopla. If there is any industry which has suffered at the hands of the digital revolution it’s the newspapers. They have fallen from mighty powerhouses of influence and money to business scratching out a living on the margins of the new digital world.  Understandably they hate Google News more than almost anyone. From their point of view Google takes the content they wrote and deserves it up on a site which they don’t get paid for. Of course as soon as a Google news reader wants to read more than just the snippet published on Google they have to click through and that drives a ton of readers (and thus revenue) to the news site.  A few years back the German government pass laws which essentially required that Google pay news publishers if they link to their content. Google responded by requiring that publishers agree not to pay for being linked to…if they didn’t agree they were out the index. Not surprisingly most signed.

The Spanish government has now passed similar legislation which taxes Google for linking to news sites. The wrinkle here is that they are trying to impose an “inalienable right” clause which they hope will prevent Google from solving this in Spain the way they solved it in Germany. On the face of it this is all very silly.  The newspapers in question can stop Google from indexing them whenever they want by simply deploying a “robots noindex flag” on their sites…and they can lose the traffic which comes their way from Google by doing that.

If the Spanish try to make the weird “inalienable right” clause to trump the German solution (please don’t ask for an explanation of how that works I haven’t got one yet”) then Google could simply dump the Spanish news index entirely….then everyone loses.

This feels a lot like tilting at windmills on the part of the Spanish media dinosaurs who just don’t like the way the digital world turned out. Sadly that ship has sailed…Google does not and will not pay to index your content Señor Publisher, you may hate it and feel it unfair, but that’s the reality and in your heart of hearts you know that you need Google more than Google needs you.