Google Set Ups A Webform Giving Individuals The “Right To Be Forgotten”
People living within the European Union can now request Google to remove information about them online. This comes after a European Court Of Justice ruled that Google had to respect individuals’ “right to be forgotten”. The court’s ruling requires Google to pull down “irrelevant” and stale information about individuals and organization upon their request. The court stated any and all information on Google’s search results about any party that goes against the EU Privacy directive, can be erased from the search engine upon the party’s request.
The ruling came by after a Spanish man went to court seeking search results on his name and that of his property’s closure be removed from Google search results. The EU’s Court of Justice gave its ruling on the matter on May 13th, that all Google links to “irrelevant” and outdated information be erased. It also emerged that prior to the Court of Justice ruling, there had been other requests to Google to have search content removed. This came about as a result of a supposed leakage of information. Some of the people who had submitted their request to Google included:
- A convicted paedophile who wanted images of him being convicted for child abuse be pulled down.
- A medical doctor who wished some bad reviews given by a past patient be pulled down.
- An ex-politician wishing to run again for office but was worried about links to information about his bad behaviours while in office in the past.
The information about previous request to Google seemed like a controlled leakage by Google; meant to create a negative publicity for the court’s ruling. Other stakeholders also see the court’s ruling to be quiet controversial. For instance Open Rights Group (an advocate for the freedom of speech rights) and Jimmy Wales of Wikipedia shared the same views. Wales described the ruling as “ridiculous” and “very bizarre”. He added that the ruling could set the stage for scenarios where you find a local newspaper publishing some information but search engines could not link to that publication. Or you find a smaller and less popular search engine displaying some pertinent information while bigger and widely used search engine like Google are not allowed to. Critics have likened the court’s ruling to censorship of information and in their view it is quite a retrogressive development.
On the other hand, supporters have welcomed the ruling, terming it as a reaffirmation of an individual right to privacy. Citing cases of privacy rights of individuals being trampled upon by companies in their greed to grow and become very successful digital businesses; by collecting and storing huge database on users’ private information. However the buck stopped with the court and Google has no option but to comply with this controversial ruling. In reaction to the ruling Google has now availed a webform through which users can now request for their data to be removed from Google search results.
Google will then assess each individual’s requests and come up with a balance between what it terms as “privacy rights of the individual with the public’s right to know and distribute information… When evaluating your request, we will look at whether the results include outdated information about you, as well as whether there’s a public interest in the information”. When reviewing users’ requests and deciding on whether or not to pull down such information, Google will be looking for, “financial scams, professional malpractice, criminal convictions, or public conduct of government officials”.
The removal of such information will begin in mid-June, and all the search results that will have been affected by the exercise, would be flagged to searchers. The removal exercises will be done by people and not computer algorithms, which is essentially what drives all of Google’s searching capabilities. In cases where there are disagreements on whether certain information should be pulled down or not, the National Data Protection Agencies will oversee such cases.
European Data regulators will meet on the June 3-4, to discuss on users “Right to Forgotten” and how to handle appeal cases. The information that have been pulled down will only be unsearchable in Europe but other queries made through the site outside Europe will still show the contested information.