Google starts disappearing links to comply with ‘right to be forgotten’

Stan Ward

Stan Ward

June 30, 2014

The fallout from the “right to be forgotten” ruling in mid-May by the European Court of Justice against Google is beginning to percolate throughout the European region. For one, Google has developed a controversial form with “flags” to indicate that information had been deleted.

In another instance the German Government is considering employing arbitration courts to decide what information people can force Google to takedown from results as 40% of the removal requests are emanating from there. And, ultimately Google has begun removing the links on Thursday as proscribed by the ECB, Wall Street Journal reports. And there have been rumblings ruminating that the court is engaging in censorship as organizations, namely news organizations, would be deprived of information.

To refresh your memory, the decision by Europe’s highest court allows people living in Europe to ask for links to “inadequate, irrelevant or no longer relevant” material to be removed from search results, although it will still be available on the original web page. The case specifically revolved around the complaint of a Spanish attorney, Mario Costeja González, to the Spanish Data Protection Agency that his privacy rights had been violated. He was aggrieved that entering his name in Google’s search engine drew results including a legal notice from 1998 about his having to sell real estate to satisfy debts to the Social Insurance authorities.

Other search engine companies will also have to comply but Google has 90% of the market. Earlier this month it was reported that Google had received over 41,000 requests almost immediately. But since the number was growing by the hundreds hourly, it has surely swelled by now which made it important for Google to get with the program. With that in mind, it created a simple document to initiate information takedown. While the form is simple it comes with some caveats for the user. First and foremost, a copy of a valid photo ID must be attached. The public can make removal requests but the photo ID of the target individual must always be attached.

Also, requestors must furnish their email address and the country whose law applies to the request. It should be noted at this point that the ECB decision applies only to Europe. is not affected (one can go to other sources for getting information on subjects). To complicate matters, the complainants must list every URL they wish taken down. For some this will be a daunting task. But the next part is key- the complainant’s explanation for the information removal. This is important because the ruling only relates to information, again, that is “inadequate, irrelevant or no longer relevant, or excessive in relation to the purposes for which they were processed.”

This last provision may give some applicants pause before they file. Yet, not so others. Google chief executive Larry Page has said that nearly a third of the, then, 41000 requests for takedown involved a fraud or a scam, one fifth concerned serious crime and 12% were connected to child pornography arrests. Absent any other government or judicial review, it is Google alone which must consider whether removing information is in the public interest. Hence, the sabre rattling by the German government to which we alluded earlier.

As of this writing we have no information on how the minor search engines are dealing with the court’s decision.

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