An important European ruling on May 13 has given citizens the green light in asking that their personal information be removed from the internet, search engine provider Google now needs to figure out how to handle an expected flood of requests asking for information to be removed from its engine. Reuters reported that the decision by the Court of Justice of the European Union requires that all Internet search services remove information deemed “inadequate, irrelevant or no longer relevant.”
To abide by this new ruling, Google will need to hire several removal experts in each of the 28 European Union countries, including those where Google does not have operations. Whether those staffers remove controversial links or judge the merits of individual take-down requests are among the many questions Google has yet to figure out.
“A simple way of understanding what happened here is that you have a collision between a right to be forgotten and a right to know. From Google’s perspective that’s a balance,” Google Executive Chairman Eric Schmidt said at an annual shareholder meeting. “Google believes having looked at the decision, which is binding, that the balance that was struck was wrong.”
Following the decision, Europeans can submit take-down requests to Internet companies rather than to local authorities. If a search engine elects not to remove the link, a person can then seek redress from the courts. The criteria for determining which take-down requests are legitimate is not clear from the decision, according to Jeffrey Rosen, a law professor at the George Washington University and head of the National Constitution Center. This ruling seems to give search engines more leeway to dismiss take-down requests for links to webpages about public figures, in which the information is deemed to be of public interest.
In Europe, Google is the dominant search engine, responsible for 93 percent of the market, according to StatCounter. Meanwhile, Bing has 2.4 percent and Yahoo has 1.7 percent. Google has some experience dealing with take-down requests in its YouTube video website, which has a process to remove uploads that infringe copyrights as the company has automated a lot of the process with a ContentID system that scans videos for particular content that media companies have provided to YouTube. In fact, Google may be able to create similar technology to address the EU requirements, said BGC Partners analyst Colin Gillis.
Overall, Google has expressed disappointment with the ruling, which it noted differed from a non-binding opinion by the ECJ’s court adviser in 2013. Meanwhile, Yahoo is also reviewing the decision to assess the impact for its business. “Since our founding almost 20 years ago, we’ve supported an open and free internet; not one shaded by censorship,” Yahoo said.
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