Robyn Vinter: New law is victory for the little guy over the King of the Internet

Knowledge is power, they say. In a network as extensive and integral to society as the world wide web, the custodians and distributors of knowledge are in some ways more powerful than world leaders.

Imagine the old feudal system - the peasants (that’s us, in this analogy) are the ones that create and build the knowledge, while the likes of Facebook and Wikipedia are the nobles who oversee it. The King of the Internet is, of course, Google.

Once upon a time, in our feudal web society, the peasants slavishly contribute to building and maintaining the internet kingdom by sending emails, posting pictures to social networks, buying things and writing insightful articles like this.

But in exchange, they are well fed with all the cat GIFs they can eat and important news from LondonlovesBusiness.com.

This depends largely on the benevolence of King Google and his pals and has so far worked out OK for almost everyone. King Google has the final word on a lot of things, he basically owns the kingdom and can do whatever he wants, so the peasants are lucky he’s a reasonably decent king.

But, as his kingdom gets bigger and bigger, the peasants are getting more and more powerless…

… until earlier this week, when an angel descended on the kingdom and told King Google he had to play fair with his loyal subjects, otherwise there would be trouble.

I realise my already stretched metaphor is coming close to breaking point, so I’m going to end it for now, but keep it in mind as I explain what’s just happened.

On Tuesday, the European Courts of Justice ruled people had the “right to be forgotten” online after a Spanish man could not escape a Google search result linking him to an article that said his house had been repossessed.

The court said Google should be forced to remove links that infringe people’s privacy, in a ruling that basically changed the way the web works.

Some commentators, including Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales, called the move censorship.

Critics have also said most people have some kind of drunken photo or something else they do not want others to see online and people should just deal with it.

But they grossly underestimate how much a damaging search result could ruin someone’s life. Up until now, for example, victims of smear campaigns or revenge porn were forced to change their names, leaving behind everything they had built up online and creating havoc in their offline lives.

There’s no denying the new rules will be difficult to implement and it’s still only a test at this stage.

But let us not forget what we know about King Google. Google is not only by far the most used search engine in the world, but also the third biggest company in the world by market value according to Forbes.

It has profits higher than Coca-Cola, Procter & Gamble and Disney.

Saying that Google can’t handle this regulatory change is ridiculous – it’s something that definitely can, and I really hope will, do.

I don’t hate Google or the other tech giants, or think they’re “bad”, but I do think they’re not more important than the freedom and wellbeing of people.

The EU has taken a massive and very brave step in making this ruling, a step which I think will later be recognised as the time when the tide started to change in favour of the privacy of individuals.

But perhaps it’s a little too early to tell if we’ll all live happily ever after.

Do you agree with me? Tweet me your thoughts @robynvinter

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