Google to hold European events to discuss ‘right to be forgotten’

Google plans to run a series of events across Europe to discuss online privacy, a move that forms part of of its response to the recent “right to be forgotten” European court ruling that allows individuals to request search engines remove links about themselves from local search results.

Google plans to hold European events and meetings to discuss the EU’s recent so-called right to be forgotten ruling.

The tour is expected to begin in September, lasting well into next year, and is designed to examine issues relating to the right to be forgotten ruling more deeply and clarify Google’s stance.

Those events are likely to be attended by members of the advisory council of experts from academia, the media, data protection, civil society and the tech sector Google has appointed as independent advisors to help the company with privacy issues.

Members of the 10-person committee include Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales, former Spanish privacy regulator Jose Luis Pina, Google’s executive chairman Eric Schmidt and its top lawyer David Drummond. The final members will be announced later today (11 July).

In May, when Google first started removing links, advertising body ISBA said Google’s move was a “pragmatic response” to a “flawed EU legal ruling”.

Ian Twinn, ISBA’s director of public affairs, said: “The ‘right to be forgotten’ stokes serious concerns among advertisers about the impracticality and cost of having to remove reference to an individual’s data on request or else face substantial fines.

“While EU political boundaries mean very little when applied to the World Wide Web, Google deserves credit for grasping this particular nettle and taking some of the burden away from businesses.”

Writing in the Guardian last night (11 July) Drummond said Google “disagrees” with the right to be forgotten ruling, which was passed by the European Union’s court of justice in May, because requests are subject to “very vague and subjective tests”.

He writes: “The court also decided that search engines don’t qualify for a ‘journalistic exception’. This means that the Guardian could have an article on its website about an individual that’s perfectly legal, but we might not legally be able to show links to it in our results when you search for that person’s name. It’s a bit like saying the book can stay in the library but cannot be included in the library’s card catalogue.”

Google has received 70,000 take-down requests, covering 250,000 web pages since May. Its team must review each application individually and in met cases with “limited information and almost no context”, writes Drummond, outlining the enormity of the task.

Drummond admits that several links have been incorrectly removed following requests – indeed, the Guardian itself had six links removed by Google, four of which have now been reinstated after the search engine admitted it had made a mistake.

He adds that Google is doing its best to be transparent by informing websites when article links have been removed, but the law restricts the search engine for providing the reasons why because the court ruled that could “violate an individual’s privacy rights”.

“It’s a complex issue, with no easy answers. So a robust debate is both welcome and necessary as, on this issue at least, no search engine has an instant or perfect answer,” Drummond concludes.



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