The "right to be forgotten" ruling in Europe heralds what will be an ongoing effort by government to rein in Google's power over us, and thus its ability to monetize what it knows about us.
The question for investors is whether that also means Google shares hit a long-term peak, in late February, of a postsplit $609.For its part Google, like a politician caught in scandal, is doing all it can to change the subject. It's buying Twitch, a video play-through site, for $1 billion. It's buying Divide, which separates corporate and personal information. It's making nice with Apple (AAPL) over patents. Google Fiber keeps moving forward to the approving nods of U.S. regulators. But will all this outweigh Europe's efforts to put an unscaleable wall of people against it? That's what the European Court of Justice ruling represents. The "right to be forgotten" is East Coast Law, in Lawrence Lessig's phrase, that can't be encoded by West Coast Law. It's a bureaucratic jumble that can't be turned into a set of computer algorithms. It is, quite deliberately, a human process placed in front of the Google machine with the aim of reducing its utility. Many observers, like Michael Wolff, think Google will simply ignore this ruling when it comes to the U.S.-based search engine, that this will only be an issue in its European-based operations. I question that. I don't think plaintiffs just want their links removed in Google.ES or Google.DE. I think the European court believes this can be enforced against Google.com as well, along with Bing.com, Yahoo! (YHOO), Yandex (YNDX) and even Baidu (BIDU). If this decision is limited to Europe, it will gradually make Europe a search engine backwater. But if it can be extended to the U.S., it could work just like the U.S. antitrust case did against Microsoft (MSFT).