As a result of the European Union’s new “right to be forgotten” landmark ruling, Google has now begun to comply with the numerous requests for individuals to remove their names from internet searches. Google engineers updated the algorithms used for their searches, and this Thursday, they began delivering the first patch of emails telling people that their requests had been granted.
“This is a new process for us. Each request has to be assessed individually, and we’re working as quickly as possible to get through the queue,” said a Google spokesperson. So far, Google has only gotten through a small portion of the 41,000 removal requests it has so far reported receiving.
The key complaint that ended up being part of the case presented to the European Court of Justice was one of the first to be addressed. In 1998, Mario Costeja Gonzalez’s bankruptcy debt, which has long since been resolved, was mentioned in an newspaper advertisement that still came up in Google search years later. Today, as a result of Google’s new removal, his name no longer appears on European Google sites.
The ruling, and Google’s subsequent compliance, has set off a round of debates among both privacy advocates and groups concerned about free speech rights. Privacy advocates say that people have a right to decide on what information others can access, especially in the case of outdated data.
“This is exactly what the data protection reform is about — making sure that those who do business in Europe respect European laws, and empowering citizens to take the necessary actions to manage their data,” said European Commission vice president, Viviane Reding.
Google, and many who have been following the case, disagrees with the ruling, arguing that search algorithms are automatic and that if individuals can hide information and references about themselves, it can influence the expression of free speech. What happens, after all, if a newspaper speaks up about a politician’s folly — but the politician has asked Google to remove all references to themselves? “[The ruling] could transform Google, for example, into a censor-in-chief for the European Union, rather than a neutral platform,” said Jeffrey Rosen, a George Washington University law professor.
For now, Google says that, as far as requests are concerned, it is taking into consideration whether information about individuals relates to public interest. A request to eliminate references to financial scams, for example, is not something Google plans to cut from search results, and the company says that those who disagree with their decisions can contact local data protection authorities.
“Google shouldn’t have to filter its search results to meet the demands of individuals. Their algorithm should index everything that has been made available on the internet. There should be no censorship and it should definitely not be Google’s job manage what personal information you have allowed to be released.” states Tim McDonald, Marketing Manager at RankXpress.