The U.S. Federal Trade Commission should reject a privacy group's push to extend the E.U.'s controversial right to be forgotten rules to the U.S. because such regulations would have a "sweeping" negative effect on many U.S. companies, a trade group said.
The FTC should dismiss a July 7 complaint from Consumer Watchdog against Google, the Association of National Advertisers [ANA] said Friday, because the privacy group's request that Google and other Internet firms enforce the right to be forgotten could open the door to more European privacy regulations in the U.S.
If the privacy group's "underlying rationale were accepted, then a myriad of broad privacy protections imposed in Europe would have to be imposed automatically in the U.S. by any company asserting to be protective of privacy interests," Daniel Jaffe, the ANA's executive vice president for government relations, wrote in a letter to the FTC. "Clearly this view is unprecedented, counterintuitive, illogical, and dangerous to free expression."
Consumer Watchdog, a frequent critic of Google, asked the FTC to rule that Google, by declining to delete search engine links on request from U.S. residents, is engaging in an unfair business practice that violates agency rules. While Google tells users it protects their privacy, it doesn't offer U.S. residents "the ability to make such a basic request," Consumer Watchdog said.
But Consumer Watchdog's request that Google and other Internet companies delete search links related to inadequate, irrelevant and excessive personal information is "extraordinarily broad, vague and elusive," Jaffe wrote.
Making those determinations "requires a highly subjective analysis," Jaffe wrote. "Google ... does not possess a Solomonic ability to determine whether information about particular individuals is relevant, excessive or inadequate."
By suggesting that a right to be forgotten rule in the U.S. would be a violation of free speech rights, the ANA appears to misunderstand Consumer Watchdog's complaint, said John Simpson, director of the organization's director Privacy Project.
Consumer Watchdog isn't asking the FTC to determine what links should be removed in search engines, but to require search engines to make their own determinations, he said. The right to be forgotten process seems to have worked well in Europe, where Google has removed links to about 41 percent of the URLs European residents have asked it to remove, Simpson said.
"They've shown they can honor these kinds of requests in Europe, and it's unfair and deceptive not to honor the same sort of requests in the same sort of way in the United States," Simpson said.
Google itself weighed in on the right to be forgotten on Thursday, protesting a notice from the French data protection regulator, the CNIL, telling the search giant to remove links globally, not just on Google.fr, after determining a removal request is valid.
"This is a troubling development that risks serious chilling effects on the web," Peter Fleischer, Google's global privacy counsel, wrote in a blog post. "While the right to be forgotten may now be the law in Europe, it is not the law globally."
There are "innumerable examples around the world where content that is declared illegal under the laws of one country, would be deemed legal in others," Fleischer added.
The ANA, in its letter to the FTC, questioned Consumer Watchdog's request for the FTC to rule that search engines must remove links to embarrassing content in addition to false, deceptive and defamatory content. The group is "conflating the right to privacy with the right not to be embarrassed," the trade group wrote.
Grant Gross covers technology and telecom policy in the U.S. government for The IDG News Service. Follow Grant on Twitter at GrantGross. Grant's email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.