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Google does not publish information; the biggest search engine in the world only opens the door and provides the links that will take users all over the world to their destinations.  Spain is trying to impose regulations on Google that would require the search giant to effectively become a content publisher.  Spain’s data privacy agency, the AEPD, has ordered Google to remove links from its search engine that impacts the privacy and dignity of certain individuals.  While Google does remove illegal links (such as those to child pornography sites in the US or to neo-Nazi or hate sites in Germany and France), it does not monitor links to legally published material.

The poster boy, as it were, for Spain’s request is a respected surgeon.  He was charged with criminal negligence twenty years ago, but the internet’s memory long.  When his name is Googled, the results yield sites with reports on his arrest.  The eventual acquittal does not make it to the top SERPs.  The AEPD believes that incorrect or, in this case, out-of-date information should be removed. Their opinion echoes that of Europe’s digital rights commissioner, Viviane Reding, who said in November, “Internet users must have effective control of what they put online, and be able to correct, withdraw or delete it at will.  The right to be forgotten is essential in today’s world.”

Google sees it differently, calling such restrictions “dangerous.”  Google attorney Luis Javier Aparicio Falon said, “Asking search engines to withdraw the information in an arbitrary manner is very dangerous.  Search engines are a fundamental part of the information society, and it would be attacking freedom of expression.”

Director of Google’s external relations, Peter Barron, said, “We are disappointed by the actions of the Spanish privacy regulator.  Spanish and European law rightly hold the publisher of material responsible for its content.  Requiring intermediaries like search engines to censor material published by others would have a profound chilling effect on free expression without protection people’s privacy.”

Google angered Chinese officials when they refused to censor search results and instead began redirecting users to Google.Hong Kong so they could access the needed information.  This has led to strained relations (as evidenced by the recent US state dinner for China, in which a host of prominent CEOs were invited, but from which Google was excluded).  Google is appealing the Spanish ruling.

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