Search engines: Information concerns
May 26, 2014
by Mark Ollig

What are the most dominant gatherers and holders of information in this digital age?

It’s the search engines of the Internet.

Many of us, when wanting to learn more about a politician, private citizen, company, or product, will first turn to a search engine like Google.

We simply type in any name, and see the search results.

Amazing, isn’t it?

People’s opinions are sometimes formed solely on what the search results disclose – whether they are true or not.

Well, what happens when information about someone is incorrect?

What recourse does one have when information about them on the Internet is inaccurate, illegally published, defamatory, or, intentionally falsified by someone on a social network?

Supposing your social security number, an image of your check signature, or other personal information ended up being stored on a non-secured website, and was retrieved by someone using a search engine?

Yours truly is not trying to scare anyone, and the odds of this scenario are unlikely to occur for you; but what if it did?

After typing my name inside quotation marks (which instructs the search results to include only those with “Mark” and “Ollig” in them), Google presented me with 5,120 search results.

I suppose this high number could be interpreted as somewhat flattering; or, it might suggest I spend too much time on the Internet.

The search results also informed me there is more than one Mark Ollig in the world.

Google has had 16 years to search and store Web links containing millions of “bits and bytes” worth of data regarding this humble columnist.

While going through a number of my search result links, I began to notice many were several years old.

Of course, for years, yours truly has been writing columns, blogs, and posting on Twitter, Facebook, and other social media sites scattered throughout the Internet, so there’s a lot of content out there.

A digital trail of my Internet information had been data-mined and gleaned by Google’s search engine bots.

These bots, or Web Robots, are also identified as Spiders and Web Crawlers.

The bots are software programs, navigating and collecting information from publicly accessible Internet websites.

Search engines use this information to index the content found on the Web.

Bots are constantly gathering information and storing it in data servers.

This stored content is made available for users on Google’s search engine.

Google’s search engine doesn’t create the information; it sends out those information-gathering bots to retrieve content from the Internet.

I suppose one could think of Google as a gigantic library; containing an ever-growing collection of a variety of books.

How long should Google, or any other search engine for that matter, be allowed to store content about someone?

Over the years, Google has had many accusations of privacy invasion directed at them via court lawsuits.

In a 2008 lawsuit, one person from Pennsylvania sued Google for $5 billion in a “crimes against humanity” case.

The case was eventually dismissed by the US Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit.

Then, there was a 2005 copyright infringement lawsuit filed against Google by the Authors Guild.

This was during the Google Library Project. Google had begun scanning text from books, making it available online to the public.

This lawsuit accused Google of “massive copyright infringement,” stating they were producing digital copies of copyrighted works.

In 2008, Google settled when it paid a reported $125 million. In 2013, this lawsuit was dismissed.

The Google Books Library Project website is: http://books.google.com.

Two weeks ago, a directive by the Court of Justice of the European Union, sparked much attention regarding personal information being stored and displayed by a search engine; namely, Google Spain, which is owned, by Google, Inc.

The court’s directive ruled European individuals have the right to ask Google to delete personal data, and have it “to be forgotten” under the conditions of when their personal data becomes inaccurate or outdated.

The Court of Justice of the European Union directive points out Google is “processing” the user information obtained by saying: “The Court further holds that the operator of the search engine is the ‘controller’ in respect of that processing.”

You can read their press release here: http://tinyurl.com/bits-EU.

It is wondered whether this directive could compel Google to remove information when requested to do so from US citizens.

As I understand, current federal law states websites and search engines can’t be held liable for indexing and providing hyper-links to a third party, or other website content.

A person wanting to have specific information “scrubbed” from a search engine would need to obtain a court-ordered declaration stating the content was unlawfully made public on a website, and is to be removed.

The court’s ruling would then be sent to the owners of the website, and/or responsible parties operating the search engine.

If you’re seeing inaccuracies about you or your company on Google, take action by going to the “Removing Content From Google” webpage on Google at: http://tinyurl.com/bits-g2.

The discussion continues . . . what are your thoughts?

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