Google hasn’t said much in public about how it plans to deal with a European court ruling that says individuals have a “right to be forgotten.” But reports from across the pond suggest the company is already gearing up for a flood of requests from people who don’t want certain information about themselves showing up in an Internet search.
Since the ruling was handed down on Tuesday, the BBC says Google has already received requests from an ex-politician seeking re-election, who wants to remove links to an article about his time in office, and from a “man convicted of possessing child abuse images” who wants to block links to reports of his criminal history. The Beeb also cites a third case of a doctor who wants negative reviews from patients removed from search results.
There’s no further details on these requests – and the BBC doesn’t say how it learned of them – but they would appear to provide strong ammunition for critics who argue the court ruling could lead to censorship of information that the Internet-searching public might find legitimately useful. Privacy advocates, meanwhile, say the ruling provides fair treatment for people who shouldn’t be dogged by outdated or irrelevant information.
Meanwhile, a German privacy official has told reporters that Google is working on creating a mechanism for individuals to request the removal of unwanted links. The official says Google has indicated to his agency that the mechanism will be available by the end of the month, although it’s not clear how it will work or how Google plans to evaluate the requests.
Google’s European office told reporters the problem of dealing with requests is “logistically complicated” and may take several weeks to figure out. (Google is by far the most widely used search engine in Europe, according to Reuters.) Executive chairman Eric Schmidt, meanwhile, used measured but still stronger language when asked about the ruling at the company’s annual shareholder meeting this week.
“You have a collision between a right to be forgotten and a right to know,” Schmidt said. “From Google’s perspective, you have to find a balance. Google believes that the balance that was struck was wrong.”
Google’s chief legal officer David Drummond seconded Schmidt’s remarks, calling it “a disappointing decision” and adding: “We think it went too far and didn’t consider adequately the impact on free expression, which is a human right.”
(AP Photo by Bob Edme shows Google’s Eric Schmidt speaking at a European conference on the Internet in 2011.)
Brandon Bailey covers Google, Facebook and Yahoo for the San Jose Mercury News, reporting on the business and culture of the Internet.