Google Search Results: Buried if Not Forgotten

March 31, 2014

The right to be forgotten or mandatory deletion of online information squarely confronts the First Amendment right to free speech. But the underlying problem provoking advocates of a right to be forgotten is only increasing: harmful information posted online has the real potential to destroy a person’s reputation or livelihood. In addition, the way Internet users get their information—search engines, primarily Google—emphasizes harmful information if it is “popular” under Google’s algorithm. In response to requests for removal, Google maintains that it cannot control the underlying websites, so removing information from its results is pointless. But, in fact, the search results themselves are of crucial importance. And those results are already being altered. If Internet users’ primary access to the vast amount of online information is filtered—and hand-edited—by a search engine, why should that editing not take into consideration the harmful nature of some information? This Article proposes that Google consider “demoting” references to information in its search results that fall within one of several sensitive categories when the party requesting removal has unsuccessfully exhausted her remedies with respect to the website publisher of the information. This amounts not to censorship, but to factoring in the nature of the information itself in determining its relevance in response to search requests.