Technology often leaps ahead of the laws needed to deal with the aftermath of widespread adoption of new technologies. Monday’s ruling by the Court of Justice of the European Union, based in Luxembourg, illustrates the point. The court ordered Google to modify links to information that is irrelevant or outdated in a manner to forget such information..
The case was brought by Mario Costeja Gonzalez of Spain to force Google to delete an auction notice of his repossessed home from back in 1998. The court added the data that may be accurate or lawful when initially published may in due course need to be forgotten.
This ruling opens the flood gates of lawsuits against the likes of Google, Microsoft (MSFT), Facebook (FB) and Twitter (TWTR).
As the law in this area evolves, in keeping with well-established laws in other areas related to privacy and statues of limitations, it is likely that ultimately the law will become much stronger. In all likelihood, instead of just having to remove data or a link on request, in the not too distant future sites will be required to automatically remove data or a link that does not meet certain criteria, in addition to making it easy for consumers to get the data deleted upon request. Such law applies to credit bureaus at present.
As these laws spread, they will massively increase the overhead and regulatory burdens on the likes of Google. It will be relatively easy to automate the process to delete or modify data that gets older than a certain date. However deleting or modifying data based on accuracy is a different story; the process cannot be fully automated. Companies such as Google will need to hire an army of human investigators. Disagreements will abound leading to thousands of lawsuits. It will be a dream come true for attorneys but very expensive for owners of the sites.
Today’s ruling does not directly apply to reviews on sites such as Yelp (YELP) and Trip Advisor (TRIP), however it has significant implications. To date, such sites have prospered in spite of many fake reviews because they have enjoyed certain safe harbors under the law. Today’s ruling from Europe is a major step towards weakening such safe harbors. The regulatory burden to ensure accuracy of every single review will be enormous and may hit hard the stocks of companies that publish reviews.