The High Cost of Google Forgetting

NEW YORK (TheStreet) -- Google (GOOG) has lost a case before the European Court of Justice and must now "forget" facts when courts tell it to, deleting links from its search engine. 

The ruling is being hailed by privacy advocates, but it is the worst possible outcome for investors in all search engines. As the case approached the bench last year, Google's blog called it a key test on "freedom of expression." 

Google's operations across Europe may now be saddled with a massive, ongoing cost. People will make requests, Google will have to decide whether to respond, and if it chooses not to delete information, it will have to defend that decision in a local court.

If it decides not to defend itself, the reliability of its search results will go down. The accuracy of information is not a defense.

The specific case involves a foreclosure proceeding that finally ended in the complainant's favor and his demand that people not find the original proceeding. There are already 200 other cases like this from Spain alone in the pipeline.

Lots of us -- companies included -- have done things or said things we'd love to have forgotten. Now there is a process, within Europe, through which we can make Google forget them.

The problem is that process does not scale. It's filled with human intervention and potential for delays.

Google is not being told to erase pages created by third parties, nor is it being told it must comply with all requests. Instead "a fair balance should be sought" between the public's need to know something and the privacy of the person complaining, the court ruled.

That also means that while a news story may no longer be found when searched for under the name of "Jose Jones," it may still be found when sought with the term "Jones Inc." Only searches under specific search terms are affected.

Multiple human interventions with each search result runs completely counter to Google's business model, which is based on machines processing requests rather than people. It holds the potential of creating a vast search management bureaucracy within each search company -- the decision holds for Microsoft (MSFT) Bing, Yahoo (YHOO) and Russia's Yandex (YNDX) as well, and even China's Baidu (BIDU) when it links to European data.

For that reason, expect all the search engines to unite in trying to overturn the decision, either legally or through the 28 European legislatures. A lot of lawyers and lobbyists are about to make a lot of money at Google's expense, but we'll still find you there.

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At the time of publication, the author owned shares of Google.

This article represents the opinion of a contributor and not necessarily that of TheStreet or its editorial staff.

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