Following the ruling of the European Court of Justice (the Court) in relation to the right to be forgotten, Google has launched a procedure for European individuals to submit requests to have links to their personal data removed from the internet.
On 13 May 2014 the Court ruled that search engines were required, upon the request of an individual, to remove links to personal data of that individual where the data was no longer relevant for the purposes for which it was collected.
European individuals can now submit their requests to Google through a web page and are required to provide links to the material they would like to be removed, their country of origin, the reason for their request and valid photo identification. Removal of links should commence from mid-June although Google has decided to assess the quantity of requests, of which several thousand have already been received, before deciding how many employees will be dedicated to the task of assessing the deletion requests.
Google has confirmed that it already has systems in place to remove illegal links and therefore implementing such a procedure in relation to deletion requests should be a simple process. Nonetheless, as the task of considering the requests and related information will be carried out by humans rather than algorithms which are used throughout the Google Search systems it is already evident that the Court’s ruling will have a huge impact on Google’s systems, staffing requirements and finances.
Larry Page, co-founder of Google, has expressed both his approval and concerns in relation to the Court’s decision. It would appear Google has an understanding of the way the average person’s privacy can be impeded by today’s tabloid and information-spreading culture and Google have high hopes for the public interest exception asserted by the Court. It will be interesting to see how this exception is applied in practice considering it is understood that 32% of the requests received by Google thus far have been from convicted criminals with a further 7% from Government and Police officials and celebrities.
Larry Page and his colleagues at Google have warned that the innovation we have seen over the past years through the internet could be at risk should stricter internet regulation come into play. Additionally there is concern that the “right to be forgotten” is undermining the right to know and the right to dissemination of information which are both facilitated by Google and similar search engines. Regardless of these matters, Google has re-asserted its aim to “organise the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful”.
Practically, this new request procedure will apply only to countries within the European Union (but also to Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway and Switzerland). Therefore any link which is deleted following a request will still be seen in a similar search outwith Europe, in America for example. Each page from which links have been deleted will be marked accordingly, perhaps worryingly similar to the previous practice in China where Google was subject to censorship requirement.
It remains to be seen whether fellow search engine providers will adopt a similar approach to Google in this regard. One thing is clear though, the law applies to all search engine providers in the same way and all are obliged to deal with individuals’ deletion requests in accordance with the Court’s ruling. Whether or not other search engine providers will have the resources and ability to devise a procedure for requests as Google has done so quickly is another matter.