Given how quickly information is distributed on the Internet, the prospect of removing all traces of a picture, story or piece of content can be incredibly difficult. However, following a European Union decision that gives citizens “the right to be forgotten,” search engines like Google are now legally obligated to facilitate that process.
Shortly after the decision, Google began to see an influx of ad hoc requests for removal, but as of May 30, the search engine provider has opened up a system that will help European citizens plead their cases for removing content.
The forms require users to enter all the URLs of material they’d like removed; it also requests the reasoning behind the removal of the content and asks requestors to show in what ways it is subject to removal. Under the EU decision, only information that is incomplete or misleading can be removed. Google has previously raised concerns over its ability to offer judgment in determining this, especially given the anticipated volume of requests.
In the introduction of the form, Google says, “In implementing this decision, we will assess each individual request and attempt to balance the privacy rights of the individual with the public’s right to know and distribute information. When evaluating your request, we will look at whether the results include outdated information about you, as well as whether there’s a public interest in the information—for example, information about financial scams, professional malpractice, criminal convictions, or public conduct of government officials.”
The European court that enacted the decision had raised concerns that removal of information could inadvertently act as a form of censorship, if pertinent pieces of information were removed from public record.
Still, in cases where actual harm is being done with erroneous information, Google’s new form can allow parties to seek removal without triggering the “Streisand Effect,” drawing more attention to an issue by seeking legal means to hide or remove it from public view.
Similar take-down options are being pondered in the U.S. as a number of states consider similar provisions that would catalyze the removal of “revenge porn” for its victims.
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