Last Friday, May 30, Google gave Europeans the “Right to Be Forgotten” via a special webpage where people can request that links containing information about them be removed from Google search results. This is not some benevolent gift from the Googs, however: the page appeared less than three weeks after the European Union’s high court ruled that, under European privacy laws, individuals have the right to request the removal of links to information that is “inadequate, irrelevant or no longer relevant, or excessive in relation to the purposes for which they were processed.”
Google Nonplused, Unsurprisingly
Google complied with the EU court’s ruling not because they wanted to, but because they legally had to. Larry Page stated that the right to be forgotten empowers governments to restrict online communications and may damage the “next generation of internet companies in Europe.” Valid points, perhaps, but more likely the tech giant just doesn’t like being told what to do. It’s their internet, Google’s thinking likely goes, and they should be able to run it as they wish.
Of course, it won’t be as simple as contacting Google through the Right to Be Forgotten page and asking them to remove URLs. No, there’s a lengthy submission process in which those submitting requests must provide the URLs they’d like removed, an explanation of why, statement of which country they live in, and a copy of a valid for of ID. No worries on that last bit, though—Google swears it won’t use it for anything other than authenticating requests. And if you believe that, I’ve got a bridge for sale that you might be interested in.
Subject to Google’s Review Process
Google will then review each request to determine if the requester’s right to privacy outweighs the public’s right to obtain relevant information. No word yet on how this process will be regulated—likely there will be a multi-person committee involved.
This is one part of the process I wholeheartedly agree with. These reviews will prevent conmen, criminals, sex offenders, and other similar lowlifes from hiding their identities. Those that have more legitimate claims, like long-settled financial troubles, will be able to have this now-irrelevant expunged from Google results when their names are searched. As with most of the rest of the world, Google is responsible for roughly 90 percent of search traffic in Europe.
Links Not Truly Deleted
If approved for removal, the URLs in question will still exist, but they won’t show up in search results from countries in the European Union. The EU is comprised of 28 member countries; associated nations closely linked to the EU, such as Iceland and Norway, will also fall under the Right to Be Forgotten.
However, the EU search blockage can be circumvented. Most European countries have their own specific Google (google.it in Italy, for example, and google.es in Spain). Removed search results may still show up if google.com is used.
Overall, the Right to Be Forgotten page looks like it will strike a good balance between the right to privacy and the right to obtain information. The biggest issue seems to be Google’s reluctance to make such a thing available. If we ever see such a thing in the United States, I’ll eat my hat.
Unlikely thought it is, it should be noted that I have a hat made of beef jerky for just such an occasion.
- Bloomberg Businessweek: “How Google Will Allow Europeans to Be Forgotten”
- USA Today: “Google launches pages where Europeans can ask to be forgotten”
- PC Mag: “Google Launches ‘Right to Be Forgotten’ Request Form”