A leading U.S. consumer group is asking the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) to force Google into granting Americans the same rights Europeans have for internet anonymity, specifically the so-called Right to be Forgotten.
A 2014 European Union court decision granted European Internet users control over their Internet reputation by giving them the power to demand search engines remove inaccurate, irrelevant and outdated information.
Today the group Consumer Watchdog filed a formal complaint with the FTC arguing that by preventing U.S. Internet users from having the ability to control what is on the Internet about them, Google was carrying out “unfair and deceptive” practices - two areas the FTC has been charged with protecting consumers against.
In the groups letter to the FTC it states "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, but then, those indiscretions required digging to bring up years or decades down the line -- and now they're instantly available with a few clicks on a computer or taps on a mobile device."
Google has not been wanting to extend the practice of internet anonymity beyond the level of what is now required, something which Consumer Watchdog's Privacy Project director John Simpson said puts the company on the wrong side of the FTC's consumer protection mandate.
"Google holds itself out as so concerned about users' privacy, but denies this fundamental privacy protection -- that's deceptive," he said.
Simpson said he believes that depriving Americans of the right to ask for removal of irrelevant information on the Internet search meets the FTC's definition for unfairness: a "practice that causes harm to consumers that they can't reasonably avoid and isn't outweighed by other benefits".
The European court decision has caused much debate with some arguing it could interfere freedom of the press and expression, but Simpson argued that giving Americans the same Internet rights as those granted to Europeans could not be seen as a form censorship because the information that was requested to be removed would still be online but without being easily found through Google search engines.
Google has not yet commented on Consumer Watchdog's approach to the FTC.
The company’s transparency report claims it has removed about 41 percent of URLs under requests based on the European right to be forgotten policy. The company will currently take down highly sensitive personal information such as credit card numbers and Social Security numbers from search results and has recently announced it would allow victims of "revenge porn" (sharing of explicit images without a person’s approval) to "request" removal of search engine results.