Google takes steps to comply with EU's 'right to be forgotten' ruling

Friday 30 May 2014 19.43
Move comes after the European Union Court of Justice ruled that links to 'irrelevant' data must be erased on request
Move comes after the European Union Court of Justice ruled that links to 'irrelevant' data must be erased on request

Google has launched a service through which European citizens can request links to what they deem as objectionable material be taken off search results.

This marks the company's first step to comply with a court ruling affirming the "right to be forgotten".

The world's largest internet search engine, which processes more than 90% of all web searches in Europe, said it has made a "webform" available through which people can submit their requests.

Google stopped short of specifying when it would remove links that meet the criteria for being taken down.

The company also said it has convened a committee of senior Google executives and independent experts to try to craft a long-term approach to dealing with what is expected to be a barrage of requests from the region's roughly 500 million occupants.

"In implementing this decision, we will assess each individual request and attempt to balance the privacy rights of the individual with the public's right to know and distribute information," according to the webform that Google made available last night.

Google says in the form that when evaluating requests, it will consider whether the results include outdated information about a person.

It will also assess if there is a public interest in the information, such as information about professional malpractice, criminal convictions and the public conduct of government officials.

The form includes space for users to submit objectionable links and a box for the person to explain why the link is "irrelevant, outdated, or otherwise inappropriate".

To make a request, a person must submit a digital copy of an official identification, such as a valid driver's licence, and select from a drop-down menu of 32 European countries the appropriate country whose law applies to the request.

The decision by the Court of Justice of the European Union places Google in a tricky position as it strives to interpret the EU's broad criteria for objectionable links, and to remove certain content from its search engine while preserving its popularity as a resource for users to find all manner of information.

Google will also face a logistical challenge in processing requests in various languages, some of which are in countries that Google does not even have operations in.

Failure to remove links that meet the EU's broad criteria for take-down can result in fines.

Since the ruling, Google has received thousands of removal requests, according to a person familiar with the situation.

Google has said it is disappointed with the EU ruling, and executive chairman Eric Schmidt said the balance the court struck between privacy and "the right to know" was wrong.

Google said in a statement that it will work with data protection authorities and others as it implements the ruling.

But it is still not clear when Google will begin to actually remove any links.

In the webform, Google says it is "working to finalise our implementation of removal requests under European data protection law as soon as possible. In the meantime, please fill out the form below and we will notify you when we start processing your request".

Yahoo, which also operates a search engine in Europe, has previously said it is "carefully reviewing" the decision to assess the impact for its business and its users.

Microsoft, which operates the Bing search engine, has previously declined to comment on the ruling.