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21st Jan 2022

Google urged to stick to European court privacy ruling

  • Google has recieved 120,000 requests to remove names from its search engine (Photo: Carlos Luna)

Privacy campaigners are urging Google to respect a European court ruling on the "right to be forgotten" as the Internet giant tours European capitals to debate the issue.

Google chief Eric Schmidt in Italy on Wednesday (10 September) moderated the second leg of the Google advisory council, a panel of eight experts appointed by the firm to help it implement the controversial verdict.

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The Luxembourg-based EU court in May concluded it was reasonable to ask Google to amend searches based on a person’s name if the data is irrelevant, out of date, inaccurate, or an invasion of privacy.

The original content remains untouched and can still be found online via Google (or any other search engine) by typing in different search terms.

The court also said it is up to Google, or any other search engine, to handle the requests itself.

“There are complicated issues at stake in the requests that we are receiving and we need to balance the right of information against an individual’s right to privacy,” said Schmidt.

The debate is intensifying in the run-up to the publication of a working document by European data protection regulators on how the search engines need to handle the requests.

Privacy campaigners on Tuesday complained some media have misunderstood or distorted the court’s ruling in favour of Google.

In an open letter to the Google’s advisory council, around a dozen pro-privacy NGOs note the case is not about the "right to be forgotten", a term they point out was never used in the court’s judgement.

“The media coverage created the mistaken impression that Google would have to start deleting information from the internet (or its own index) whenever EU citizens asked the search engine to do so,” says the letter .

They note that Google, on its own initiative, already removes content, de-indexes links, and regularly alters search results to comply with various domestic US copyright laws.

Last year, the company pulled 214 million links from its search engine out of a total of 235 million requests, according to Brussels-based European Digital Rights (EDRi)

“This has become a campaign against European data protection,” EDRi’s head told this website over the summer.

Since the May ruling, Google has fielded around 120,000 requests to remove the names of people in search results, sparking debates on freedom of expression and the right to privacy.

“Frankly, we need some help on these decisions. We didn’t ask to be appointed the decision-maker, we were ordered to be the decision-maker, and I have publically said that I did not particularly like that order,” noted Schmidt.

Google can reject the requests and refer the issue to national data protection authorities.

Reuters reports 90 such appeals have been filed in Britain, 70 in Spain, 20 in France and 13 in Ireland.

Panellist Luciano Floridi, professor of philosophy and ethics of information at the University of Oxford, asked “should we trust a private company running the search engine to operate on the links or should we trust a governmental agency to decide about these links?".

Also invited to the debate, Massimo Russo, chief editor at Wired Italia magazine, argued the rights of individuals should not prevail over the interest of the Internet user.

“Most content on social networks and social media should be deleted altogether if this opinion prevails, so the key issue is the public interest,” he warned.

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