EU force Google to censor ‘outdated’ information in SERPs
In a ruling which could have major implications to the way users can affect search results, the EU Court of Justice has today said search-giant Google must remove ‘out-dated’ results at the request of users.
Google have called the result ‘disappointing’ and will now be forced to review how they respond to user requests for content removal. At present, Google resists almost all attempts to censor or cleanse their search results – citing the action as ‘censorship’. But the changing face of data protection laws mean that they will be forced to review this stance.
The case was brought to court by a Spaniard who wanted a decade-old web listing to be removed from a search for his name. The offending page – an auction notice relating to his repossessed home – is no longer relevant, he argued, and shouldn’t be shown.
In a report on the ruling on the BBC, campaign group ‘Index on Censorship‘ likened the removal of information like this to “marching in to a library and forcing it to pulp books”. Whilst it’s a nice analogy, unless the web listing itself is also removed, it’s actually more like removing the book from the library’s index – making it a lot harder to find.
Whilst a European Union Court case is one way for users to act, there are of course many other ways for a user to reduce the impact of a negative search result.
The most popular of these is sometimes labelled ‘negative SEO‘ (or reputation management) and involves not the removal of the offending item, but the optimisation of other web sites to appear higher in the results – essentially forcing the unwanted search result further down the page.
The appelant is just one of many users who would like results removed from Google – and a positive ruling like this is sure to bring many more out of the woodwork. Known as the ‘Right to be forgotten‘, campaigners have been fighting for clearer processes for many years now.
So what does this mean to the average brand or user?
Obviously the ruling will force Google to review their policy on result-removal – the outcome of that remains to be seen, but most speculators agree that Google will be forced to offer a more open process for people to ask for results to be removed.
Whether that will also apply to brands as well as individuals remains to be seen. Obviously in an industry like SEO there is a great interest in ‘sanitising’ the results that users see when they search for your brand or business. How far Google allow that to go is anybody’s guess.
One thing is for sure though – a lot of people will be paying much closer attention to the results that come up for a search on their name now. Expect ‘vanity searching’ to hit an all-time high, and the speculation on what Google’s response to the ruling will be will hit fever-pitch this week.