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Google Starts Removing European Search Results For "Right to be Forgotten"

| 26 Jun 2014 14:35

The European Union's top court ruled in May that individuals have the right to request removal of results in searches of their own names.

Starting today, if you search for a name from google.fr or google.co.uk, the search engine will return a notification with the results that says, "Some results may have been removed under data protection law in Europe." The search engine has started removing search results following a ruling in May by the European Union's top court. The ruling states that individuals have the "right to be forgotten", and can request removal of results from Internet searches for their own names. Today, Google completed updates to its technical infrastructure and began implementing requests for removing results. Google set up a web form for removal requests and has received more than 41,000 requests since the ruling.

The lawsuit began in 2010 with Spanish lawyer Mario Costeja González, who made a complaint to the Spanish Data Protection Agency. González wanted an auction notice for his home, which had been published by a Spanish newspaper in 1998 and indexed by Google, removed from both the newspaper's website and the Google search results. González argued that the results from 1998 were no longer relevant, and infringed on his privacy. Press rights protected the newspaper, but on May 13, 2014 the European Court of Justice ruled that Google must provide individuals with an option to remove search results that are "inadequate, irrelevant [...] or excessive" and also "outdated". The ruling left Google to arbitrate which requests met the requirements of the ruling and should therefore be granted.

Google had earlier stated it would include a notification that search results had been removed for certain searches, but EU regulators opposed the idea. Instead, Google has added its blanket statement to all searches that appear to be for a person's name when using Google's European search websites. Google already includes similar alerts that results has been removed from searches due to copyright takedowns or pirated content.

Making Google the arbitrator of which requests are valid has raised significant privacy and freedom of speech concerns. Google's FAQ for removal requests states, "In evaluating your request, we will look at whether the results include outdated information about your private life. We'll also look at whether there's a public interest in the information remaining in our search results-for example, if it relates to financial scams, professional malpractice, criminal convictions or your public conduct as a government official (elected or unelected)." While removing a search result may reduce the number of people who find embarrassing information about you online, the ruling only requires that Google remove the result from searches for individual names, not all search results. Plus, the information that is being suppressed from the search results remains available on the Internet, it just doesn't show up in the results from Google. I can think of some very valid reasons (and a few nefarious ones) to request removal of information from a website, but it seems to me that taking down the page that is hosting that information is more important than removing it from search results. What do you think?

Source: The Wall Street Journal

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