After a ruling by the European Union Court of Justice (ECJ) on the right for European citizens to request the removal of search engine results pertaining to them, the new Google website set up as of May 29 in compliance with this right-to-be-forgotten ruling received 12,000 requests from Europeans asking for their personal information to be deleted from Google’s search results. Google’s new site, which asks for valid identification, can remove search results for individuals when these results are found to be inadequate, irrelevant or no longer relevant, or excessive in relation to the purposes for which they were processed, criteria determined by ECJ.
The ruling by the ECJ, which is based in Luxembourg, was in response to a Spanish man’s complaint of Google search results showing an auction notice for his repossessed home. He claimed that this was an infringement upon his privacy. The man initially took his complaint to the Spanish data protection agency, which has had some 200 similar cases. This man’s case ultimately led to the ECJ courtroom showdown which allowed for the 12,000 requests Google has faced recently for requested deletion from Internet search results.
Google fears that the forced removal of search results amounts to censorship of the Internet, and an individual’s access to free expression. Fraudulent requests are also a concern for associated privacy groups, the reason Google necessitates identification for search removal requests.
Staff attorney with the American Civil Liberties Union Lee Rowland said “Once a company enters the fray of a take-down regime … that system needs to be protected against false take-down requests and attempts to game the system for private benefit.” The ruling companies such as Google must now comply with was described as “a nightmare” by international director of the Electronic Frontier Foundation Danny O’Brien.
Rowland mentioned that the “unfathomable” work that must be done now by Google and other search engines to process right-to-be-forgotten requests is “genuinely a tragedy both for free speech and the future of the Internet…as a result they may err on the side of taking down fully-protected speech” when complying with the court’s ruling.
O’Brien noted that all the unique right-to-be-forgotten requests must be handled personally, a huge time consumer for companies like Google which use in large part algorithms to facilitate company operations. Although Google, as the world’s biggest search provider, will most likely face the most requests for the right to be forgotten, it is feared that smaller European companies will be injured without the vast resources that Google has access to.
Data protection from U.S. companies has long been a hot topic, especially in Europe after the scandal broke that the U.S. National Security Agency was tapping German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s cell phone. In an emailed statement, ECJ’s justice commissioner Viviane Reding said “it was about time” for Google to comply with European laws protecting data that have existed since 1995.
Google’s own chief executive officer Larry Page said the ruling may aide regime’s seeking to censor or suppress content on the Internet. “As we regulate the Internet,” he said in an interview, “I think we’re not going to see the kind of innovation we’ve seen.” This echoes the concerns of people who say top firms like Google are readily able to receive and respond to the already 12,000 strong requests for deletion from search results, while smaller start-ups that do not have the available resources will face more hurdles in adding unique innovation to the Internet.
By Jesse Eells-Adams