As many of you have heard by now, the EU’s top court has ruled that its citizens have the right to be forgotten. In a nutshell, this means that if you don’t want your nefarious acts to turn up in Google search results for all eternity, you have the right to request that Google remove your information from search results. The ruling seems extremely vague to me, lacking clear guidelines as to when information shouldn’t be removed and providing no specific statute of limitations for how long information on someone should be available. However, this article is not about the merit of the ruling, but instead is an exploration into whether or not this ruling, along with similar rulings and laws passed around the world, pose any serious threats to Google’s long-term goals.
While all these battles may seem like cracks in Google’s armor, on their own most of these various regulations and restrictions can hardly be considered more than scratches. However, the precedents they are setting could pose a serious threat to Google down the line. The EU’s recent ruling may have specifically set the precedent of forcing Google to disclose to searchers that they are collecting information from them. This could be a dangerous precedent for Google, especially if they are forced to get consent from searchers for collecting the vast amount of personal data they are collecting from each user. While people may be okay with cookies, if on a wide scale people were made fully aware in detail of just how much data Google is collecting about them, they may be made uncomfortable to the point of considering a competitor. In addition, if this information convinces people they don’t want Google collecting quite so much data about them, a ruling from a major nation could significantly threaten Google’s growth plans and bottom line.
As a professional marketer, I always like to take a moment to explore the potential impact on my professional interests. In essence, what’s bad for search engines such as Google is often bad for me. Google is collecting detailed information on searchers to provide me and other marketers the most extensive targeting capabilities possible. Any overarching restrictions to Google could mean less targeting capabilities for us. In addition, if searchers begin using different search engines as a result of Google being forced to be totally transparent with their level of data collection, it could lead to added complication for marketers.
If laws are changed to remove content on search engines and limit their capabilities, it could directly lead to less traffic. This decline could result in companies around the globe seeing less paid and organic search traffic to their websites, ultimately hurting their ROI. Furthermore, right now I know that the vast majority of my potential customers will search for me on Google or Bing, and as such I manage ads on these two platforms. However, if significant volumes of people begin to use various smaller search engines, it could make managing large campaigns across the various sources a nightmare. On a positive note, it could present an opportunity to show ads on cheaper, less saturated platforms, but overall the headache it would cause likely would not make the savings in CPC worthwhile. Overall, it seems as marketers that our fates are heavily tied to the fates of search engines, especially Google.
The EU, along with several powerful nations, have shown they are not afraid to tell Google what they can or can’t do. Currently, Google hasn’t faced a ruling or law they can’t overcome fairly easily. However, if a law is passed that restricts what kind and how much data Google can collect, it could be crippling to their long-term plans for growth. In this scenario, it would be interesting to see how Google, a company with more capital than many countries, responded. What if they threatened to pull out of a nation unless the regulation was revoked? What if they ignored the law and took the fine? What if they use their robot army to slowly take over the EU one nation at a time!! Ok, that last one seems pretty unlikely (maybe?), but you get the idea. The bottom line is that, while the actions taken against Google to date on their own don’t represent major threats, these collective rulings may have set precedents that could really threaten Google in the long-run.