The Law and Business of Social Media
May 28, 2015 - First Amendment, Status Updates, Privacy

Status Updates: A Right To Be Forgotten Update; Errand Apps for Everyone?; Your Entire Google Search History

Lest we forget. Established a year ago this month by a European Court of Justice decision, the right to be forgotten requires search engines like Google to comply with an individual’s request to remove “inadequate, irrelevant,” or “excessive” links that appear in search results when someone conducts an Internet search of the individual’s name. The ruling gives search engines broad discretion—so broad that Google has so far rejected more take-down requests than it has granted (457,958 compared to 322,601). In determining whether to grant a take-down request, Google says it considers “whether the results include outdated or inaccurate information about the person.” The Internet giant also weighs “whether or not there’s a public interest in the information remaining in our search results—for example, if it relates to financial scams, professional malpractice, criminal convictions or your public conduct as a government official (elected or unelected).” Ars Technica gave some examples of the take-down requests that Google has refused: a Hungarian high-ranking public official’s request to remove content about his more-than-20-year-old criminal conviction, and a French priest’s request to remove articles about his excommunication from the church. Perhaps not surprisingly, Google has removed more URLs from Facebook than from any other site.

Information wants to be (not quite) free. In its early years, the Internet was often seen as a vehicle for democratizing data, taking information that was previously accessible only to a select few and making it available to the masses. Many Internet entrepreneurs still espouse those ideals, developing business models that cut out the middle man to make goods and services that were once seen as luxuries, such as  high-end eyewear and financial planning services, widely available at affordable prices. The current trend, however, seems headed in a different direction entirely, with new sites and apps offering luxury concierge-like services at high prices. For example, Postmates, an app that provides couriers to fetch goods from stores and restaurants, recently dropped four mint mojito iced coffees right into the hands of one Wall Street Journal reporter who admits he “paid nearly $30 for the luxury.” Many of the entrepreneurs behind this new wave of “errands apps” nevertheless maintain that they fully intend to make their services available to people of all income levels. Two such executives are Tri Tran, a co-founder of the prepared-meal delivery service Munchery, and Nick Allen, the creator Shuddle, an app that sends cars driven by well-vetted chauffeurs to ferry children to and from playdates and other appointments. Both plan to lower their prices once they have acquired more customers—Munchery hopes to be able to buy in bulk and Shuddle intends to provide carpooling services. But New York Times columnist Farhad Manjoo is skeptical, arguing that economies of scale (i.e., ones in which prices drop as fixed costs are spread out over more customers) are rare in the tech world. “I remain unsure if they will ever get to the point where they can serve the masses,” he concludes. “Yet even if Shuddle and Munchery do not get their prices low enough to go mainstream, they deserve credit for trying.”

Search me. Speaking of Google, here’s a potentially embarrassing way to pass some time: view, download and export your entire Google search engine history—or at least all of the searches you conducted while you were logged into your Google account (of course, as The Washington Post points out, if you have Gmail you’re likely logged into your Google account almost all the time). An unofficial Google blog contains the instructions. Simply visit the Google home page and type “Google Web History” into the search bar. When you reach that page and login using your Google ID, you should see all of your searches over the past few days immediately. You can further download and export your entire Google search history by clicking the three-vertical-dot icon in the upper right-hand corner of the Google Web History page and selecting “download searches” from the dropdown menu. The point, says The Washington Post, is to give people an easier way to transfer their data from Google to other services, such as AOL. Since Google will deliver your query history in a file format that may be unreadable to you, the newspaper suggests you open the result in your computer’s notepad or other plain-text editing apps, and search for the term “query text.”