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Bye-bye, bad reviews; hello, censorship

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While a lot of people in the U.S. are fighting now to preserve net neutrality, not so many have noted a European Court of Justice ruling that could alter our Internet experience far more profoundly. What does it matter how fast our download speeds are if the information we're accessing has been censored?

First, a quick update on the FCC’s proposal to allow Internet providers to charge some customers for “fast lane” service. Not surprisingly, the agency is receiving a lot of feedback, most of it outraged. As the Washington Post put it, “… FCC at center of storm.”

The concept of “neutrality” is that all content is treated equally. The playing field is level for all competitors.

What Google is now confronting, thanks to the European court, is much more dangerous. The judge ruled that people are entitled to a “right to be forgotten.” In other words, if you did something embarrassing — or criminal — and Google search results bring up a link to that, you can demand that Google remove the link.

The information will still be out there somewhere, mind you. It’s not being erased from the source. It will just be very, very hard for the average person to find.

I can understand that someone who did something stupid 10 years ago would like to have that not keep coming up; when I was editing daily newspapers, which publish police blotters routinely, I would get one or two calls every spring from about-to-be college grads who suddenly realized the drunk-and-disorderly citation from their sophomore year was permanently attached to their names, thanks to the Internet.

But since the European court ruling, the website reported Thursday, here are the kinds of demands Google is receiving:

“… an ex-politician looking to be re-elected, who would rather links detailing bad behavior in office not appear under his name; a doctor who doesn’t like the negative reviews from patients that appear when he’s searched for; and a convicted paedophile who wants details of his court conviction for possession of child abuse images taken down.”

The author of this article is right to worry that, inundated with requests, the easy thing for Google will be to just say “yes.”

The ruling applies only to the countries in the court’s jurisdiction. Thanks to the First Amendment, it will be much more difficult to go down this road in the U.S. — though many here at home likely think the idea is just dandy. If your business has ever gotten a negative review online or your reputation is less than perfect, you might be cheering this decision.

But our whole system is based on the premise that the free and untrammeled flow of information is necessary to a functioning economic system and a healthy democracy. Much as someone would like to “forget” history, we all pay a price when the rewrite occurs: All data is suspect when any part of it is subject to manipulation.

What do you think?

The week ahead

Here in Pennsylvania, a recent common pleas judge’s ruling has taken attorneys statewide by surprise, and if it stands, it could affect your business should you decide to dissolve. Reporter Mike Sadowski tells you why.

Bricks-and-mortar businesses complain about the competitive advantage online businesses have when they don’t collect sales tax and are pleased that states, in need of revenue, have been cracking down. But what if you’re one of those locally based e-commerce businesses? Mike (he’s had a busy week) looks at the other side of the question.

The Inside Business focus is law and accounting, with lists on law firms and CPAs.

Find the week’s networking opportunities here.

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