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The right to be forgotten

May 30, 2014

The US search engine is switching from algorithms to grey matter to comply with new regulations in Europe. But requests to delete information have raised some tough issues.

Google data center
Image: picture-alliance/dpa

Google started implementing a controversial data erasure provision for Europeans on Thursday, giving users the opportunity to apply to have their names removed from the results of some searches.

The development followed a European Court of Justice ruling that upheld an individual's "right to be forgotten" by deleting links to personal information that is outdated or inaccurate. About 90 percent of all web searches in Europe are through Google.

An online form is now available on Google sites in EU countries that gives users the opportunity to submit a request to have information removed. The form asks for identification and which links should be deleted and why.

Tough call

Google said each request will be handled individually by a staff member who will have to make a judgement call.

"The court's ruling required Google to make difficult judgments about an individual's right to be forgotten and the public's right to know," Google said in a statement.

The US company did not say how long it would take to complete erasures. Links will only be deleted from searches in Europe but would appear as normal in other regions.

Creating a balance

Also in response to the European Court ruling, Google is creating an advisory committee to provide guidance on balancing an individual's right to be forgotten and the public's right to know.

The committee includes former Google chairman Eric Schmidt, Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales, Oxford Internet Institute ethics professor Lucianio Floridi and other legal experts.

The “right to be forgotten” ruling and Google's response has raised a number of concerns about online censorship and the growing phenomenon of reputation management.

Many experts say the global impact of the European Court ruling is unclear but that it could lead to some difficult issues for both search engine owners as well as users.

kpc/cjc (Reuters, AFP)