The recent EU judgement against Google does not require “a total rethink of basic freedoms” as supposedly claimed by Professor Floridi. But it does raise profound issues.
“There is no privacy in a village” but every so often a local gossip might be ducked or burned as a witch after breaching too many confidences or causing too much mischief. There is no privacy in the on-line global village and Google has close to a monopoly over our access to gossip (alias information). Its rapid response to an overdue application of existing law is therefore most welcome. It is also more nuanced and practical than at first appears as I mentioned in my blog yesterday . Its response takes account of the fragmented muddle of EU law, where “harmonisation” based on carefully drafted ambiguities (which all can accept and interpret differently), reinforces de facto fragmentation.
The language attributed to Professor Floridi is over the top but do we really want Google to be a pro-active censor? Or do we want it to “merely” obey the law and to be better able to stop relaying that which is libellous, inaccurate and/or private (such as our own postings on social media which some-one has claimed the right to turn into “the new oil” without our informed consent).
Google’s “guilt” in the EU case was, however, rather narrower. It concerned its failure to act on a complaint that its search engine rankings “made available” reports of the original debt but not of its discharge. That may go to the heart of its current business model. It does not raise questions about “fundamental freedoms”.
Professor Floridi does, however, raise other, more important issues.
Do we really want Google to act alone in fixing the problem?
If so we risk turning it into the Judge Dredd of the on-line world.
Or do we want Google to help create an arms length regime that applies to all?
If so, who will work with it (given commercial rivalries and mistrust) and what will they create – giving the probable mis-trust of any US-centric solution and the state of debate on Internet Governance (however defined)?
Other industries faced by similar situations have used organisations like CEDR (the Centre for Effective Disputes Resolution to help them create independent disputes resolution services, national, regional and international, under a variety of legal regimes. CEDR was created in 1990 with the support of the CBI and the Law Lords. It is now Global with offices and services based in the Middle and Far East, where disputes may cut across legal and regulatory traditions, not “just” jurisdictions.
The time has surely come for the Internet Community to follow a similar path.
Might this judgement and the dilemma faced by Google provide the catalyst?
I happen to trust Google more than I do most European (as opposed to UK) Courts but would not be happy to see it as judge and jury over what should or should not be accessable via its services. I would, however, expect it to abide by the law, using an independent appeals process to defuse disputes. Its initial response to the EU judgement therefore looks sensible and the speed of response shows that it had anticipated the need. What comes next is, however, much more significant.