Long-time Google critic Consumer Watchdog has petitioned the US Federal Trade Commission to enact a European-style “Right to Be Forgotten” (RTBF) in the US. The non-profit organization says the fact that it’s being done in Europe means it’s feasible in the US.
The organization says that Google should provide a RTBF in the US in order to make good on its privacy promises to consumers. In support of its position it cites an FTC-enforced “right of relevancy” in the Fair Credit Reporting Act, which “requires that after a certain period of time – seven years in most cases – information about debt collections, civil lawsuits, tax liens, and even arrests for criminal offenses become obsolete and must be taken out of consumer reports.”
Accordingly Consumer Watchdog argues the values of the RTBF already exist in certain areas in US law and should be extended to search results. In the end the non-profit is making what amounts to a fairness argument:
[T]he Right To Be Forgotten in Europe is simply restoring the balance provided with Privacy By Obscurity for the Digital Age. The right simply allows a European to identify links that are no longer relevant and ask for their removal. Removal won’t always happen, but the balance Google has found between privacy and the public’s right to know demonstrates Google can make the Right to Be Forgotten or Right To Relevancy work in the United States.
A Survey Monkey US consumer survey conducted a year ago found that there was considerable interest in being able to delete or remove one’s name or identity from search results. A clear majority (74 percent) of respondents said that they would be “extremely likely” or “likely” to take advantage of such a feature or opportunity.
Under the European RTBF, the underlying content or data source of the disputed material is not expunged. Links to that material are removed from the search index. Below is the full text of Consumer Watchdog’s letter to the FTC commissioners.