Google sets up 'right to be forgotten' form after EU ruling

 

Technology correspondent Dave Lee explains how the controversial system will work

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Google has launched a service to allow Europeans to ask for personal data to be removed from online search results.

The move comes after a landmark European Union court ruling earlier this month, which gave people the "right to be forgotten".

Links to "irrelevant" and outdated data should be erased on request, it said.

Google said it would assess each request and balance "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"When evaluating your request, we will look at whether the results include outdated information about you, as well as whether there's a public interest in the information," Google says on the form which applicants must fill in.

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Case study - Brad from Derbyshire

"The story was relating to an offence of drinking and driving. A criminal conviction.

"But has it got any public interest that somebody was convicted of that several years ago? I don't think so."

'Google should forget me'

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Google said it would look at information about "financial scams, professional malpractice, criminal convictions, or public conduct of government officials" while deciding on the request.

Earlier this month, the BBC learned that more than half of the requests sent to Google from UK individuals involved convicted criminals.

This included a man convicted of possessing child abuse images who had also asked for links to pages about his conviction to be wiped.

'Fraudulent requests'

Google said information would start to be removed from mid-June and any results affected by the removal process would be flagged to searchers.

Decisions about data removal would be made by people rather than the algorithms that govern almost every other part of Google's search system.

Disagreements about whether information should be removed or not will be overseen by national data protection agencies.

Europe's data regulators are scheduled to meet on 3-4 June. The "right to forget" will be discussed at that gathering and could result in a statement about how those watchdogs will handle appeals.

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Analysis - Rory Cellan-Jones

"Much of the comment online has been deeply sceptical about the right to be forgotten, particularly in the US where the First Amendment guaranteeing free speech would make this kind of ruling impossible.

Some have pointed out that information won't be removed from google.com, just your local version of the search engine, while others question the sheer practicality."

Google agrees to forget

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Information will only disappear from searches made in Europe. Queries piped through its sites outside the region will still show the contested data.

On 13 May, the EU's court of justice ruled that links to "irrelevant" and outdated data on search engines should be erased on request.

The case was brought by a Spanish man who complained that an auction notice of his repossessed home, which appeared on Google's search results, infringed his privacy.

Less innovation?

On Friday, Google said that EU citizens who want their private details removed from the search engine will be able to do so by filling out an online form.

However, they will need to provide links to the material they want removed, their country of origin, and a reason for their request.

Individuals will also have to attach a valid photo identity.

"Google often receives fraudulent removal requests from people impersonating others, trying to harm competitors, or improperly seeking to suppress legal information," the firm said.

"To prevent this kind of abuse, we need to verify identity."

However, in an interview given to the Financial Times, Google boss Larry Page said that although the firm would comply with the ruling, it could damage innovation.

He also said the regulation would give cheer to repressive regimes.

Mr Page said he regretted not being "more involved in a real debate" about privacy in Europe, and that the company would now try to "be more European".

But, he warned, "as we regulate the internet, I think we're not going to see the kind of innovation we've seen".

Mr Page added that the ruling would encourage "other governments that aren't as forward and progressive as Europe to do bad things".

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European Court of Justice, Luxembourg

People keen to get data removed from Google's index must:

  • Provide weblinks to the relevant material
  • Name their home country
  • Explain why the links should be removed
  • Supply photo ID to help Google guard against fraudulent applications
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