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Google struggles to implement ‘right to be forgotten’

Google is muddling along in dealing with the European Court of Justice’s (ECJ) ruling on the “right to be forgotten”. Much has been written since the decision two months ago. Since then, more than 70,000 requests have been made of Google to remove informative links which cover more than 250,000 web pages.

Though it doesn’t like or agree with the ruling, Google says it is complying and apologizes for any glitches in doing so in these early days. Meanwhile, the jury in another court-the court of public opinion- is still divided- generally into two camps. On one hand the ECJ decree is viewed as a victory for privacy advocates. On the other hand some people argue that the public’s right to know is damaged.

In an article published in the Guardian, Google’s chief legal officer David Drummond admitted that the firm hasn’t handled the ECJ ruling perfectly and said it has made some mistakes. Perhaps most notable of these was the removal of links to some articles from the Guardian. Drummond said,

Of course, only two months in our process is still very much a work in progress. It’s why we incorrectly removed links to some articles last week.

Drummond makes no bones about Google’s feeling on the ECJ decision. He and Google’s chairman Eric Schmidt are adamant that the ruling limits freedom of expression and opinion. That is why Google has until now only removed links to articles that are deemed illegal by a court or contain ‘pirated’ content or malware.

In referring to Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, Drummond says, “Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers.” But it’s like beating a dead horse. The genie is out of the bottle, the court has ruled and Google must comply.

To aid in its compliance efforts Google has established an advisory council of experts from both outside and inside the company. The outside assets include people from academia, the media, data protection, civil society and the tech sector. This team has a daunting task- namely to review each application individually- even when there is limited information or context. It must adhere to the court’s mandate- that the information is “inadequate or no longer relevant, or excessive.”

Drummond pointed out that,

This means that the Guardian could have an article on its website about an individual that’s perfectly legal, but we might not legally be able to show links to it in our results when you search for that person’s name if kit is ‘inadequate, irrelevant or no longer relevant, or excessive.

To its credit Google is expending much money and effort to comply with the ECJ decision despite disagreeing with the ruling. What remains to be seen is how grave the consequences of this arbitrary censorship are going forward.


Stan Ward Stan Ward has enjoyed writing for 50 years. Writing has been a comfortable companion to a successful business and teaching career for him. Find him on Google+.

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