Google has started accepting requests from Europeans wanting to remove search links to information on them that they find objectionable, following a controversial ruling earlier this month by the Court of Justice of the European Union.
Asserting the people's right to be forgotten after a certain time, the court ruled that people who want search engines to forget them by removing search results referring to their names can file a request to do so directly with the operator of the search engine, which must then assess the merits of the request. A refusal by the operator can be appealed in a court.
Search engines can be asked to remove results for queries that include their name where those results are "inadequate, irrelevant or no longer relevant, or excessive in relation to the purposes for which they were processed," the court ordered.
A removal request form was set up by Google at the end of last week, asking users to submit the URL (uniform resource locator) for each link referring to the person that appears in a Google search that the user would like removed. It allows users to submit requests on behalf of themselves and others they represent, but wants information on how the linked page is about the affected person, and why the URL in search results is "irrelevant, outdated, or otherwise inappropriate".
Google described the form as an initial effort and said it planned to work closely with data protection authorities and others over the coming months to refine its approach.
The EU court ruling has raised concerns that it could violate freedom of expression and the right of the public to know, as it could be used to prevent posts that criticize governments and other people in authority from appearing in search results.
"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," Google wrote in the introduction to the form.
When evaluating a user request, the internet company will check whether the results include outdated information about the person, as well as "whether there's a public interest in the information - for example, information about financial scams, professional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."
Google said in a statement that the court's ruling requires the company to make difficult judgments about an individual's right to be forgotten and the public's right to know.
To negotiate the issues involved, the company has set up a seven-member expert advisory committee that has, among its members, Google's Executive Chairman Eric Schmidt and Chief Legal Officer David Drummond, Wikipedia cofounder Jimmy Wales and Luciano Floridi, information ethics professor at the Oxford Internet Institute of the University of Oxford.