In compliance with a recent European Court of Justice (ECJ) ruling granting EU citizens the ‘right to be forgotten,” Google has created an official form for individual requests to remove particular links containing sensitive personal information from its search engine results.
The top EU court said individuals have the right to control their data and can ask search engines to remove results in EU countries where Google establishes a branch to promote and sell advertising. The move was in line with an earlier EU data-protection directive proposed in 2012.
Google, though “disappointed,” is respecting the court order and has created this form to streamline the requests (more than 1,000 Europeans have made requests for removal of URLs since the ruling) and expedite the reviews process.
From The Wall Street Journal:
In response to a question at Google’s annual shareholder meeting, Schmidt said the case reflects “a collision between a right to be forgotten and a right to know.” A balance must be struck between those two objectives, Schmidt added and “Google believes… that the balance that was struck was wrong.”
The “right to be forgotten” requires that Google delete “inadequate, irrelevant or no longer relevant” data from its results when a member of the public requests it. Individuals must explain why a particular URL meets that criteria.
The request-for-removal process is open to citizens in more than 28 EU countries and four non-EU countries: Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway and Switzerland. Requests may be made on an individual’s behalf, but photo identification of the person in question must be provided.
A Google spokesperson told Search Engine Land that not every request will be approved, but that if the information in question is indeed inadequate or irrelevant, it will most likely be removed.
“The court’s ruling requires Google to make difficult judgments about an individual’s right to be forgotten and the public’s right to know. We’re creating an expert advisory committee to take a thorough look at these issues,” Google said in a statement. Serving on the special committee are:
- Eric Schmidt, Google’s executive chair
- David Drummond, Google’s chief legal counsel
- Frank La Rue, U.N. special rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression
- Peggy Valcke, director of University of Leuven’s law school
- Jose Luis Piñar, the former head of Spain’s data protection authority
- Jimmy Wales, founder of Wikipedia
- Luciano Floridi, an information ethics philosopher at the Oxford Internet Institute
At this point in time, Google expects its removal team can process applications within days or weeks, but each will be handled on a case-by-case basis. The removal team will work autonomously but in conjunction with the advisory board.
When a decision for removal is approved, the contested URL will be dropped from search results throughout the EU but will remain in Google’s worldwide system, Google.com.
It is not clear whether a search of EU results that was initiated inside the U.S. will still show URLs that have been removed within the EU territories.
The bottom of search results pages will also be annotated with a disclosure from Google when a URL has been removed. For example:
From Search Engine Land:
It’s also likely that Google will provide a link to ChillingEffects.org, as it does with many other types of censorship requests, where people can learn more about what is removed. Names wouldn’t be revealed, though those can be deducted from the search. The URLs taken-down probably wouldn’t be revealed. But it’s possible there would be some general explanation about what was removed or maybe why something was removed.
That will be interesting to see how it plays out. Someone who has, for example, a URL about a child pornography conviction removed might find that the disclosure could lead to something that says there was a removal relating to a legal conviction. People might not be able to tell what the conviction was specifically, nor as easily find details about it, but they’d know something happened. The Right To Be Forgotten might be more like The Right For Fuzzy Memory.
In an interview with the Financial Times, Google CEO Larry Page said the main reasons given for removal requests on Google U.K. and Ireland include the following:
- Thirty-one percent: fraud/scam incident removals
- Twenty percent: violent/serious crime arrest removals
- Twelve percent: child pornography arrest removals
Thus far most requests have come from German citizens (40 percent), followed by Spain, the U.K., Italy and France.
In addition to ‘right to be forgotten’ requests, Google has handled more than 23 million requests in the last month to remove links to copyrighted material around the world, reported The New York Times.