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Google Struggles With 'Right To Forget'

Google says it's having problems following the European censorship decision that lets users seek removal of embarrassing search results.

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Since the Court of Justice of the European Union affirmed in May that Europeans enjoy a "right to be forgotten," Google has received 70,000 search result removal requests related to 250,000 webpages.

In an op-ed piece published in British, French, German, and Spanish newspapers, as well as on the Google website, Google SVP and chief legal officer David Drummond describes the difficulty Google faces trying to implement the court's decision.

"[The] challenge is figuring out what information we must deliberately omit from our results, following a new ruling from the European Court of Justice," he wrote.

Evaluating whether the information the company has been asked to hide from the public should really be made inaccessible has proven to be a difficult task. To make that determination, Google now has a team of people who individually review content removal requests and has formed an advisory council that includes experts from academia, the media, data protection authorities, civil society, and the tech sector.

[Is user location data collection dangerous? Read China Labels iPhone A Security Threat.]

Previously, Google removed search results that included information deemed to be illegal, as well as malware and sensitive personal information such as bank details. Unlawful content varies around the world but includes defamatory, copyrighted, and obscene material.

But in Europe, Google now must also judge whether information is "inadequate, irrelevant or no longer relevant, or excessive," while balancing public interest. As Drummond points out, this is a vague and subjective test.

Those asking Google to remove information include former politicians seeking the removal of posts criticizing their policies while in office; criminals seeking the elimination of articles about their crimes; architects and teachers seeking to hide bad reviews; and individuals who published comments online that they now regret.

The right to be forgotten also functions as a gag order: Drummond says that Google is trying to be transparent about removals by informing websites when their pages have been removed from Google's index. "But we cannot be specific about why we have removed the information because that could violate the individual’s privacy rights under the court's decision," he says.

Drummond suggests that there are instances when removing information seems like the right thing, such as a man seeking to have Google omit a news article stating that he had been questioned in connection to a crime for which he was never charged. But he stresses that there is no easy way to balance one person's right to privacy with another's freedom of expression and right to truthful information.

Although the EU's mandate to forget has been criticized by news and advocacy organizations, it doesn't appear to be particularly effective: Information removed from search results in Europe remains accessible in Google's non-European search sites. As Google explains on its support site, those in Europe can access the US version of Google by visiting "Ncr" stands for "no country redirect."

Earlier this week, the Electronic Frontier Foundation argued that the European Court's ruling is fundamentally flawed. "The real problem is the impossibility of an accountable, transparent, and effective censorship regime in the digital age, and the inevitable collateral damage borne of any attempt to create one, even from the best intentions," the EFF said.

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Thomas Claburn has been writing about business and technology since 1996, for publications such as New Architect, PC Computing, InformationWeek, Salon, Wired, and Ziff Davis Smart Business. Before that, he worked in film and television, having earned a not particularly useful ... View Full Bio

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User Rank: Apprentice
7/12/2014 | 2:19:31 PM
So what Google is struggling?
if someone wants to remain anonymous, so be it. If google has problem dealing with this, let them hire more. If it is ineffective, eventually laws will catchup. I am sure most users don't care to check which URL the search engine goes to, to fetch data - I mean, or or or whatever. People are already dumb enough to put their lives online so they wouldn't bother to check for hidden information when it doesn't show-up in their country level search.
User Rank: Ninja
7/14/2014 | 7:21:35 AM
Re: So what Google is struggling?
It is a complex situation, firstly, Google is being asked to rectify a situation that was initially created by the individual. Google does not own the internet and can't literally remove anything, but it falls on Google because they own the largest search engine in the world. Secondly, what about the second largest and third largest search engines, and so no, and what about those small search engines that can't even be audited.

In the end, this could turn into a wasted administrative paper work exercise, or the individuals might gain the censorship that they are seeking, or this might open the search engine market up to comprise of multiple players. Either way, it is an interesting development.
User Rank: Apprentice
7/14/2014 | 9:44:52 AM
Re: So what Google is struggling?
The problem may not have been created by the individual who wishes to be forgotten; it may be very well have been created without their knowledge by a jerk with a camera.
User Rank: Apprentice
7/12/2014 | 2:47:00 PM
Rights are determined and held by each individual, including the right to not be in a search engine
This is not a struggle. No where in the concept of indivudal rights or the freedom of an indivudal is the existence of some public right to override or put on display anything about an individual. I dont know why the EU court limited it to old or false information. An indivudal should be able to tell google to keep everything about the person off their search engine. 

So what, a person went to a school, or worked there or has a facebook or a linked in. Even with a criminal record, unless the law states otherwise(as in the case of sex offendor registries) google does not have some overriding right to put anything about an invidual in its search engine, In fact no entity, government or person can grant to itself or through some ridiculous claim of public right to know(what is a public) some claim to know anything about anyone. 

Google may not be obgligated to prevent information from getting in, after all if you are on linked in your info will get caught in a search engine BUT if a person explicitely demands a search engine keep them off their systems, then the search engine should remove it and prevent further data collection. 

For that matter, it should not be limited to google or search engines. Just because facebook or linked in or google+ has my name doesnt mean those apps have some overriding right to publish my information, especially if I have determined to not publish. 

Bottom line is the entire world is caught up in this non-existent belief they have as a group the ability to alienate individuals from their rights and it is including the right to be NOT known. This will never end until people go to their governments and tell them, the government itself has NO rights, ahead of the individual and then no corproation, company, group, religion, union or any other entity has some right over the individual. Until this happens, we people will always need to defend our existence from these various parasites who believe they have authority over individuals. 
User Rank: Apprentice
7/12/2014 | 4:04:24 PM
Re: Rights are determined and held by each individual, including the right to not be in a search engine
So are you going to raid all the public records and library archives for any stories associated with someone who wants to become anonymous and delete them?  Because a search engine is simply a giant electronic microfiche of public information.  No difference.  To treat it differently is to abide by a double standard.
User Rank: Ninja
7/12/2014 | 11:57:39 PM
Re: Rights are determined and held by each individual, including the right to not be in a search engine
Just the way, one cannot simplypurge himself from all the newspapers. Once it is out there, it is out there. Any attempt to suppress it is useless. 
User Rank: Ninja
7/14/2014 | 7:58:35 AM
Re: Rights are determined and held by each individual, including the right to not be in a search engine
You have raised some very good points. I feel the question becomes related to individual rights vs. collaborative gains. On the one hand, individuals have a right to make decisions that they feel are best, if individual rights are not protected then progress will never take place, in a society or economic region. Collaborative and collective right are also important, without it, no form of networking and building economies of scale can be established because, without information sharing (good or bad) -- a common understanding cannot be gained.

Google and LinkedIn is a good example here, individuals choose to publish a part of their activities in order to network with individuals with similar interests, and maybe the goal is to gain a link to a specialized network. The individual has the option to limit their public presences but, the key point is that execution is taking place at LinkedIn's end, not Google's end. 
User Rank: Apprentice
7/12/2014 | 7:24:51 PM
Google a hypocrite???
Yet Google quickly and neatly hides it's own junk...why are there less search results for the murdered Google exec on Google? Why is it not news on Facebook anymore either? (Is there collusion going on?) Google are you choosing to deliberately cover up your own negative drama? A bit hypocritical no?
User Rank: Ninja
7/13/2014 | 6:29:56 PM
good idea but...

While this is a good idea I don't believe it is possible. What good is it if your results are omitted from the European search sites but no others?

Charlie Babcock
Charlie Babcock,
User Rank: Author
7/14/2014 | 7:27:01 PM
Private citizens have part of their exist in public sphere
Individual rights are not absolute, as the best thinkers on the rights of man have explored again and again. With rights come responsibilities, and in democracies we have the responsibility to spend part of life in the public sphere as a citizen, with events like births, deaths, marriage and property purchases part of the public record. The Europlean Union Court did not offer any description of how the right to remain private was to be separated from the obligation of being a democratic citizen. It's decision is only selectively enforceable.
Asherry Magalla
Asherry Magalla,
User Rank: Apprentice
9/8/2014 | 9:33:12 AM

I  do believe the decision made by the court about the , "Right to be Forgoten" should observe the two concepts, the right of freedom of expression and the right of confidentiality and privacy or the right to be left alone, so that each part, the publisher and the the person claim to the removal of the publication article, or any online material would be in good position to excercise their right. The fact that, the decision is based on just one part or not clear on the balancing between these two rights  may create conflicts on which facts to be removed and on what degree does those facts are deemed to infringed or affects the rights of the particlar person or the right of the public in general.

Therefore, the balancing of these to concepts is crucial.    

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