What the bad guys don't want you to know
Published 07/06/2014 | 11:00
Google has started the process of complying with the EU's recent 'right to be forgotten' ruling, launching a new webform where European citizens can request the removal of search results.
The online form is applicable to search results (not the content itself) that individuals think contain information that is "irrelevant, outdated or otherwise inappropriate".
Google says that since the ruling was announced they have received thousands of requests, with some of the first reported cases including a scandal-hit politician, a paedophile convicted of possessing images of child abuse and a doctor who wanted negative reviews of his practice removed.
Google has stressed that this process is entirely new for search engines and that they will have to work hard to strike a balance between allowing individuals control of their online presentation and ensuring that the system is not abused into removing stories in the public interest.
To this end it has created an expert advisory committee to develop its approach and navigate both the ethical and legal challenges of the ruling.
The committee will be co-chaired by Google's chairman, Eric Schmidt, and its chief legal counsel, David Drummond. Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales and the UN's special rapporteur on freedom of expression, Frank La Rue, will also sit on the board.
"The court's ruling requires Google to make difficult judgments about an individual's right to be forgotten and the public's right to know," said a Google spokesperson.
"We're creating an expert advisory committee to take a thorough look at these issues. We'll also be working with data protection authorities and others as we implement this ruling."
Requests submitted through the newly-launched form will be considered on a case by case basis with individuals requested to include a copy of official identification such as a local driver's licence. Requests can also be submitted on behalf of the individual by a lawyer, or other representative.
Google's chief executive officer Larry Page said in an interview with the Financial Times that the company had been caught off guard by the level of mistrust in Europe over technology companies' increasing oversight regarding individuals' personal data.
"I wish we'd been more involved in a real debate ... in Europe," said Mr Page. "That's one of the things we've taken from this, that we're starting the process of really going and talking to people."
Mr Page acknowledged that this was a new approach for the company and that, while Google has previously taken a strong stance on issues of privacy and information access, it will now try "to be more European and think about it maybe more from a European context".
Since the European Court of Justice ruling was announced, scholars, politicians and journalists have been divided on whether it marks a victory for individuals' right to privacy, or a catastrophic setback for freedom of expression and public access to information.
Some have pointed out that reactions to the ruling are split broadly upon transatlantic lines, with American commentators more likely to categorise the 'right to be forgotten' as a 'blow against free speech', while European counterparts are more likely to view it as a practical tool that helps ordinary individuals control the information circulated about them.