Cotija González, the man who made Google bend
His well-trimmed beard and his little round glasses, his microscopes meticulously covered in plastic, his silent character and his ten diplomas in graphology and psychology hanging on the walls… At Mario Cotija González, a 58-year-old legal expert, everything, absolutely everything, transpires the character of a detective series derecho al olvido. Of the hard-working type who unravels affairs discreetly. Nothing like a digital white knight a la Edward Snowden. The Galician however won, two months ago, a pioneering legal battle in the history of the Internet. “I have nothing of a hero!” He defends himself, blushing. Nevertheless, it is thanks to him that the “right to be forgotten” was imposed.
Housed in a soulless building on the seafront of La Coruña, a port city of 250,000 inhabitants at the end of Europe, Mario Costeja scans the horizon. In the distance, he imagines the American coast, home of the Google search engine at the origin of his anger. The litigation, the first of its kind, can be summed up in 36 words: an advertisement published in La Vanguardia sixteen years ago, concerning a real estate auction intended to recover his wife’s Social Security debts. The daily digitizes its archives a few years later… and the ad goes up automatically each time Mario enters his name on Google. “At the time, I was working as a consultant for companies, my clients asked me questions, he argues. If I couldn’t solve my own problems,
Up to a million “forget forms”
Since then, the fifty-year-old has divorced, the debt has been settled. But the damage remained. In 2008, Mario Costeja then began an approach with the Catalan newspaper, which could not remove a legal announcement. He turns to Google, which sends him back to its headquarters in Palo Alto. “It was a bit far… So I seized the Spanish Data Protection Agency, which agreed with me. Google appealed and the Court of Justice of the European Union recovered the case. “
In mid-May, the Luxembourg authority agreed with him, a world first. The Galician would never have imagined the outcome of this six-year-long textbook case: in the wake of the judgment, the Californian giant put a “forget form” online for its 450 million European compatriots! The procedure has since experienced real enthusiasm, with 70,000 requests filed in one month, including 14,000 from French people, the first claimants. Specialists expect 500,000 to one million forms sent to California within a year. Better still, the search engine started removing the offending links from its European versions last weekend. Mario Costeja checked on his laptop: the thorny ad has disappeared mario costeja.
On the other hand, his name and his story have made the rounds of websites around the world. “By launching this business, I knew that could be the case, he smiles. I decided to do it for myself, but also for future generations.” It is no longer the legal expert who speaks, but the father of a 32-year-old daughter and a 26-year-old son. “Teenagers write things on the Internet, the years go by and the criteria of appreciation change… We must be able to have a law that protects our privacy.”
The American press saw it rather as a “bomb” launched by the Europeans, equivalent to censorship. The giants of the Net evoke an attack on the freedom of expression, frightened that criminals or crooked politicians do not want to “clean up” their past. “There is a collusion between the right to be forgotten and the right to know”, reports the former CEO of the search engine, in the New York Times . “I am of course worried about the consequences this may have for democracy”, abounds the co-founder, Larry Page, in the Financial Times .
Interested Americans, Brazilians and Japanese
The 50-year-old, who grew up under the Franco regime, brushes aside these criticisms out of hand. “This ad didn’t matter to anyone except me! The case of convicted criminals or politicians is, of course, different. I have nothing against Google, it’s a fantastic tool. But I struggled my whole life for freedom of expression and against totalitarianism, demonstrating since I was young. But American technology companies have an increasingly important power, soon equivalent to that of the States. When there is a threat, there has to be a standard.”
He is not the only one to worry about this digital superpower in our daily lives. Since the decision, calls and emails have been pouring in from all over the world to his tiny Galician office, sometimes up to a hundred a day. Americans, from North or South, Japanese telling him their story and wanting to start the same process… “This decision has opened a path. Technology must adapt to the citizens and the specificity of each country, not the other way around. ” The legal expert knows he can say goodbye to anonymity. He has, however, only one hurry: to return to his microscopes and find his “real work” sharenting significado.