Why 'right to be forgotten' won't hurt startups (despite what Larry Page says)

Larry Page has voiced fears that new European privacy legislation will harm startups - but the legislation is aimed at multimillion-dollar companies.

by Emma Haslett
Last Updated: 18 Aug 2014

Europe’s new ‘right to be forgotten’ rules, which were enshrined in law by the European Court of Justice earlier this month, have caused much consternation among those in Europe’s internet biz.

While Google has grudgingly created a ‘Right to be Forgotten’ form for those who want past indiscretions erased, data security companies have rubbed their hands together at the prospect of all that expensive ‘advice’ they can give to firms worried about the implications of the new legislation.

In an interview with the Financial Times published this morning, Google co-founder and chief executive Larry Page rather magnanimously said his main worry wasn’t for Google – it was for all those European startups that will struggle to comply with the rules.

‘We’re a big company and we can respond to these kind of concerns and spend money on them and deal with them, it’s not a problem for us. But as a whole, as we regulate the internet, I think we’re not going to see the kind of innovation we’ve seen.’

Never fear, though, Larry: although law firms have jumped at the chance to offer their two cents on the subject, in reality the ruling only really applies to large companies whose impact is likely to affect how society sees an individual – like Google or Facebook (the ruling is here if you want to check).

As Paul Sanders, who started the Nowhere Guide – Shoreditch’s oldest digital company – pointed out to The Register, there’s no need for small firms to splash cash on mitigation for the ruling.

‘They’re totally wasting their money. There are normal rules that apply to being a publisher, and to being a platform that allows others to publish. Any startup should take account of those rules just as it takes account of other rules in society. But nothing has changed.’

So although lobby groups such as Policy Exchange warn that ‘the hundreds of startups… across Europe that are developing platforms to improve our online experience [are likely to shoulder] an untenable legal burden that could stop them operating at all’, in reality, the real concern (as Page pointed out) should be more about how unscrupulous governments will interpret the legislation.

‘[The rules] will be used by other governments that aren’t as forward and progressive as Europe to do bad things,’ he said. ‘Other people are going to pile on, probably… for reasons most Europeans would find negative.’

Oppression of freedom of speech? Sounds a lot scarier than some poor sod who wants a 16-year-old eviction notice taken down...

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