"The greatness and the genuine trait of your thought and writings lie on the fact that you positively and interestingly make use of philosophical thoughts and thoughtfulness in order to deeply and concretely cogitate about America's social issues. . . . This does not mean that your thought is reducible to your era: your thought, being inspired by issues characterizing your era . . . , overcomes your era and will still likely be up to date even after your era, for future generations." Bruno Valentin

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Google in the E.U. and U.S: Privacy Rights and Obligations

The European Court of Justice, the E.U. Supreme Court, ruled on May 13, 2014 that Google must defer to the right of users to have links about themselves deleted. Google’s management had sought to obviate any obligation to act on such requests. The New York Times points out that the decision indicates “that such companies must operate in a fundamentally different way than they do in the United States.”[1] The ring of fundamentality has implications for the international strategies of internet companies and affords us a better look at how business plays out in society differently in different societies.

Depending on the impact of cultural differences between a given company’s home and host markets impact the management of the company as a whole, either a global (i.e., one-size-fits-all) or multidomestic (culture-specific managements) international-business strategy is optimal. Although it might seem that a “market-making” function like providing a search engine or social-media medium would naturally fit the global approach to international strategy, the impact of differing societal values bearing on relevant rights and obligations can render the multi-domestic approach superior. The ECJ’s decision may push Google’s management further in this direction—the root cause being the differing power and attitude toward business in the E.U. and U.S.

Mina Andreeva, a spokesperson for the E.U. Government’s executive branch, noted that the court’s decision switches the obligation from users to the internet companies like Google and Facebook to prove that user-data is still needed to be kept online. “Today, it’s up to consumers to prove this, but this is not very easy or effective,” she said. “We have reversed the burden of proof.”[2] Put another way, consumers face the uphill battle in the U.S. whereas managers do in the E.U. This difference reflects a basic, or fundamental, difference societally in terms of how much business is valued in society.

Put in terms of a theorem, the more societal values reflect or value the values that are held in the business sector, the more likely it is that societal institutions place obligations on customers (or the general public) and rights on companies. The case of Google suggests that the E.U. and U.S. societies differ fundamentally in the extent to which business values have stature as societal values.

1. James Kanter and Mark Scott, “Google Must Honor Requests to Delete Some Links, E.U. Court Says,” The New York Times, May 13, 2014.
2. Ibid.