41,000 (and counting) line up to erase their dodgy pasts from Google search

Stuart Lauchlan Profile picture for user slauchlan June 3, 2014
The pressure has been on Google to get started on helping to cover up dodgy dealings and unsavoury aspects of individuals lives, using a new online form. It’s been sadly, but inevitably, very popular.

Step this way...

Now that Google has provided complainants with an online form to fill in, it’s perhaps hardly surprising that there’s been a flood of applications from the less savoury members of society  to erase damaging search engine results.

After the European Court of Justice (ECJ) last month came down on the side of a Spanish citizen who complained about information on him coming up on Google searches, the so-called ‘right to be forgotten’ was laid down - albeit in somewhat confused and not particularly specific terminology.

That’s why representatives from 28 data protection authorities from across the European Union tipped up in Brussels yesterday to try to work out some common guidelines for how the ECJ ruling should be interpreted in the real world outside of a courtroom. (We may be waiting some time for the outcome of that meeting!).

Meanwhile the pressure has been on Google to get started on helping to cover up dodgy dealings and unsavoury aspects of individuals lives, hence the online form. It’s been, sadly but inevitably, very popular.

Day one saw 12,000 requests for erasure posted. That’s around 20 a minute.

By yesterday, 41,000 such requests had been lodged. That works out so far at around 10,000 a day - or 7 a minute - which seems to justify Google’s initial concerns that it would need to hire new resource just to cope with processing the applications.

Any EU citizen can now apply for a “right to be forgotten” via the form, explaining why the link is “irrelevant, outdated, or otherwise inappropriate.” If approved, the information in question will be erased from search rankings, although the actual pages hosting it will stay.

Debate ongoing

Meanwhile, debate continues about whether the ruling is a good or bad thing. European Commission officials, including Justice Commissioner Viviane Reding, have hailed it as a victory for European citizens over primarily US tech providers.

European politicians have been less certain. It’s questionable how many votes there are to be had from helping pedophiles and other criminals to try to conceal their pasts.

Had a bit of a think about it

For example, while British Prime Minister David Cameron was initially uncertain (for which read, not-briefed?), he’s since come down on the side of Google, with his spokesman stating:

Whilst taking time to consider and look at the judgment and possible implications, his view is that there is potentially a distinction to be drawn between dealing with the issue of information that is wrong, and correction of factually inaccurate information, as distinct from what some have characterised as seeking to hide factually correct information. I think that is a distinction that is relevant to this … the judgment is a fairly recent judgment, and a large number of parties will be considering it closely.

European advertising industry lobby group ISBA takes the view that Google’s provision of the online form is a pragmatic move, but remains concerned about the implications of the overall 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.

But in support of the ECJ ruling, the main complaint from Kevin Hauzeur of the Belgian Pirate Party is that it doesn’t go far enough:

Firstly, the Internet user may feel tricked because Google asks for a photo ID card to validate the request, which is a problem with regards to privacy rights.

The user will have to repeat the procedure with other websites and search engines. And finally, Google insists that it won’t be the one ruling on the requests, but It will be the national regulatory bodies.

Meanwhile, writing in the Washington Post, Craig A. Newman, managing partner of Richards Kibbe & Orbe LLP and CEO of the Freedom2Connect Foundation, a Washington-based nonprofit established to promote Internet freedom through the use of technology, warned that Europe will come to regret the ruling:

In the long term, however, the court’s approach could cost Europe severely in lost investment and innovation.

Investors and tech entrepreneurs will surely take note that the cost of providing information over the Internet in Europe has just skyrocketed. Google and other search engines not only face difficult removal decisions. They must also build massive systems to handle removal demands. If foreclosure notices qualify for deletion, that alone could account for millions of requests, to say nothing of unfortunate karaoke performances and Halloween costumes.

While Google may have the resources to forge on in Europe, tomorrow’s Google or Facebook or Tumblr may not. It isn’t difficult to imagine start-ups simply forgoing a European presence, given the high cost of doing business there. It’s a dire consequence, but by creating special rules that apply only within the European Union, the continent has set itself on a path toward cutting itself off from the global community.

As for Google itself, CEO Larry Page weighed in in an interview with the Financial Times in which he argued that the ruling was a weapon for use by repressive regimes:

It will be used by other governments that aren’t as forward and progressive as Europe to do bad things. Other people are going to pile on, probably…for reasons most Europeans would find negative.


41,000 ne’er-do-wells and counting…

This is only the start.


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