Just last week France gave Google a 15 day deadline to censor content worldwide. And not long ago, a Japanese court decided that Google should take down content whenever someone swears on their honor it’s inaccurate. Now our friendly neighbor to the north is hopping on the bandwagon by making tech-unfriendly court decisions of its own.
Canada’s Global Edict
In general, Canada approaches the internet more like the United States does. While every country has to balance privacy rights with information technology, neither North American country has the extreme privacy obsession that Europe does. But Canadian authorities still feel comfortable ordering Google to de-list certain content from the search results, and therein lies the problem.
This particular case began with a trademark dispute between two Canadian tech companies. The winner, Equustek, asked Google to remove links to the loser, Datalink. Google complied—by delisting the content on the Canadian version of Google, google.ca.
That wasn’t enough for Equustek, which took the issue to court. A Canadian court sided with Equustek and ordered Google to de-index the content globally. Google appealed and, as of last week, lost the appeal.
As with other de-indexing disputes, the problem comes down to one of scale: Canadian courts should not have the power to decide what non-Canadian search sites show around the world. If that means Canadian users can still find the expunged content, it’s because Canada should find a better way to regulate the internet than reaching across the border.
Courts and Tech
Given how common clashes like this have become, I think it’s worth asking why we see the same battle over and over. I think the answer is at least partly because internet regulation is being left to the courts, which struggle to fit it into existing laws. Most countries are not stepping out ahead of these issues with forward-thinking technology regulation rules.
That means that balancing privacy and technology is being left largely to judges/justices without a strong tech background. They can see, for example, that Google is providing access to content that they were ordered to remove; but they don’t necessarily see how this fits into the global picture, or how this content is part of a healthy, functioning search engine. When content is arbitrarily de-listed, the entire functionality suffers.
Likewise, judges aren’t asking who’s really culpable. Google is a middleman and only offers access to what’s already out there on the internet. When a piece of content needs to be removed, either because of trademark infringement, defamation or privacy violation, the person who actually posted or published it should be the one held liable. If that individual is forced to take it down, it will quickly vanish from Google’s search results.
In Japan and Canada, the current clashes come from judges making global decisions in relatively small local cases. In Europe, the clashes will soon play out in the court system as well. What is absent in all cases is a panel of experts being tasked with creative, forward-thinking solutions to our privacy and copyright needs.