Google Posts Request Form in EU to Remove Personal Info Online

By Todd R. Weiss  |  Posted 2014-05-31
EU search ruling

Google Posts Request Form in EU to Remove Personal Info Online

Google has made an online form and process available for people in the European Union who want to have information about them removed from searches. The move complies with a recent court order in the EU that search providers such as Google must have such a process to "forget" things about people if they make removal requests.

Google posted the form for EU users on May 30, along with complete instructions on how to make a request.

"To comply with the recent European court ruling, we've made a webform available for Europeans to request the removal of results from our search engine," Google said in a statement emailed to eWEEK. "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. 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."

The new online form states that the "Court of Justice of the European Union found that certain users can ask search engines to remove results for queries that include their name where those results are (emphasis added by Google) 'inadequate, irrelevant or no longer relevant, or excessive in relation to the purposes for which they were processed.'"

Google states on the form's site: "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 When evaluating your request, we will look at whether the results include outdated information about you, as well as whether there's a public interest in the information—for example, information about financial scams, professional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."

Users who want to make a removal request will have to provide their full name, a copy of a valid photo ID and other related information.

"Please note that this form is an initial effort," the form states. "We look forward to working closely with data-protection authorities and others over the coming months as we refine our approach."

Only residents in Austria, Belgium, Bulgaria, Croatia, Cyprus, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Iceland, Ireland, Italy, Latvia, Liechtenstein, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland and the United Kingdom are presently eligible to use the form, according to Google.

Users making information-removal requests must provide the URL for each link appearing in a Google search for your name that they request to be removed, as well as an explanation about why the linked page is about them and how it is irrelevant, outdated or otherwise inappropriate.

Users must provide additional details and sign and attest to the authenticity of their request.

Google did not respond to an eWEEK request for further details about the action, including how many removal requests have been received so far and if the company is seeking ways of continuing to fight the decision, which is not appealable.

Jeff Jarvis, a journalism professor at City University of New York and the author of the 2011 book, "Public Parts: How Sharing in the Digital Age Improves the Way We Work and Live," told eWEEK that the EU court's decision was "an insane ruling" that is "beyond belief. It has a huge impact on freedom of speech, and that's my primary concern."

Google Posts Request Form in EU to Remove Personal Info Online

The problem with the EU ruling, he said, is that it allows people to "change history" in search, which is something he equates to tyranny.

"And Europeans [who underwent the tyranny of leaders like Hitler and Stalin] should have enough memory to realize that," said Jarvis. "Trying to say that someone has the right to forget ignores the right of the other party to speak and to remember and to know" what actually happened in the past, he said. "History is still history. The notion of rewriting history is offensive to an enlightened culture built on knowledge."

By requiring Google and other search providers to maintain processes to remove information at people's whims "sets a horrendous precedent on the reliability of the Web," said Jarvis.  "That undercuts the very foundation of the Web. If we are going to be forced not to link to things or to be held liable for it, that's not going to let the Web exist."

Jarvis said this since the EU court decision is not appealable, there is likely little that Google can do right now, but legislation could ultimately be passed to replace the flawed policy. "I would imagine that other court cases could come along" to challenge it in the other direction, he said. "Someone else could sue to fight the removal of information because their freedom of speech could be affected. This is abhorrent to a modern notion that controlling knowledge is just a dangerous thing."

The recent EU court decision means that Google and other search companies can be required, under some conditions, to remove outdated and harmful information about individuals that can turn up in online searches. The ruling is a stunning reversal of an earlier opinion by an adviser to the Court of Justice of the European Union in June 2013 that said Google should not have to delete information from its search results when old information is pulled up that is damaging to individuals.

In its May 13 ruling on the matter, the full Court said that Internet search engine operators are, in fact, responsible for the processing of personal data that appears on Web pages published by third parties and must remove or correct the information in some cases. "Thus, if, following a search made on the basis of a person's name, the list of results displays a link to a Web page which contains information on the person in question, that data subject may approach the operator directly and, where the operator does not grant his request, bring the matter before the competent authorities in order to obtain, under certain conditions, the removal of that link from the list of results," the decision states.

In the 2013 case, a man in Spain had argued that Google searches of his name had uncovered a then-15-year-old announcement in a newspaper describing how a property he owned was up for auction because of nonpayment of Social Security, the court stated. The man wanted Google to remove the old information, which was damaging his reputation, according to the earlier case. The Spanish court originally accepted the man's argument and ordered Google to remove the information from its search results. Google then appealed that decision and received the favorable opinion from the Court of Justice adviser, who ruled that the original Spanish court decision was wrong.

The latest Court of Justice action, however, trumps the original opinion by the court's adviser. That means that Google and other search engine operators might have to make changes in such cases in the future and comply with some requests by individuals to remove old, outdated personal information.

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