Google made the headlines over privacy again this week, and not for the first time this month. This time the search giant was standing up to Westminster Members of Parliament, who believe that the major online players should be controlling what we can say and see, all in the name of privacy.
Parliament’s involvement in this always-thorny issue isn’t new – it’s just been long-tail, and it is worth knowing a bit of the background to the situation as it’s one that’s likely keep growing.
What we’re seeing here is the fallout from last year’s Ryan Giggs superinjunction case. The footballer took out a superinjunction to prevent media reporting on his extramarital affair with Imogen Thomas, but it leaked across social networking platforms and soon became a trending topic on Twitter.
The Giggs sparked furious debate across the media and led Prime Minister David Cameron to set up an investigative committee for privacy and free speech.
On Tuesday, March 27th, that committee called for an enhanced regulatory body for the press, citing failings in the PCC. But is also singled out Google, Facebook and Twitter for harsh rebuke, saying they should ensure that their services cannot be used to breach court orders, and if they failed to do so then laws should be passed to force them in to compliance.
“Google and other search engines should take steps to ensure that their websites are not used as vehicles to breach the law and should actively develop and use such technology. We recommend that if legislation is necessary to require them to do so it should be introduced.”
Google made the headlines when it responded, claiming that such a mechanism would be extremely difficult to implement. They argued that it would be too difficult to identify offending content as there’s no way to automatically gague the context, and a blanket ban would hamper the free, unfettered flow of information on the internet.
Westminster’s response was that Google’s objections were “totally unconvincing”.
In a similar, but rather more subdued show of defiance, Twitter has simply said that they’ll continue to evaluate legal requests on a case-by-case basis.
Facebook has yet to respond.