May 30, 2014
Google Responds To “Right To Be Forgotten” Ruling
Peter Suciu for redOrbit.com - Your Universe Online
Earlier this month the European Court of Justice ruled that search engines had to remove links to objectionable personal information that was deemed "irrelevant and outdated" from search results, but this week Google CEO Larry Page suggested it could have ominous repercussions.
In an interview with the Financial Times, Page said that the "right to be forgotten" ruling against Google in Europe could risk damaging the next generation of Internet start-ups, as well as a give strength to repressive governments that look to restrict online communications.
Page's comments come just as Google introduced an online form, which was made available on Friday, that would give anyone in Europe a way to ask the tech giant to censor links to other online sites that may contain outdated and/or damaging information about the individual or companies.
On the page for the form Google noted, "We will assess each individual request and attempt to balance the 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 When evaluating your request, we will look at whether the results include outdated information about you, as well as whether there’s a public interest in the information—for example, information about financial scams, professional malpractice, criminal convictions, or public conduct of government officials."
Google reportedly is still hoping it could strike a balance that could block damaging private information about ordinary Europeans, but at the same time preserve or maintain links to things in the public interest. The Financial Times cited corrupt public officials as an example that falls into the latter category.
How Google – and for that matter any search engine – could respond to such removal requests has not been addressed. On Thursday the New York Times reported that, in the first few days after the ruling, about 1,000 Europeans had asked to for link removals. These included an actor who sought to expunge links to news articles about an alleged affair with an underage girl, whilst a doctor sought to have negative reviews taken down.
"Search companies will face a considerable challenge in responding to the requests," Danny Hakim wrote for the New York Times. "Google alone handled more than 23 million requests in the last month to remove links to copyrighted material around the world. But much of those efforts are automated and address straightforward issues like taking down a link to a stolen movie."
The issue of link removal for persons could be more complicated, but Page told the Financial Times that he hoped that the European ruling could create a new level of engagement in Europe over privacy issues.
"I wish we’d been more involved in a real debate . . . in Europe," he told the Financial Times. "That’s one of the things we’ve taken from this, that we’re starting the process of really going and talking to people."
Page's other concerns are two-fold. First that it could be used by some governments that aren't as forward or modern thinking as Europe to do "bad things." This could include calls for removal of links for what Page said were "reasons most Europeans would find negative."
The other concern that Page said the ruling brings is that Europe's new online privacy regime may make it harder for Internet start-ups as these ventures must face new layers of regulatory complexity. Page said it certainly could have hurt Google when it was just at the stage of being just "three people in a garage."
"We're a big company and we can respond to these kind of concerns and spend money on them and deal with them, it's not a problem for us," Page added in his interview. "But as a whole, as we regulate the Internet, I think we're not going to see the kind of innovation we've seen."