Ten things you need to know about the EU’s decision on the ‘right to be forgotten’ on Google
On Friday 30th May 2014 Google launched its webpage allowing European citizens to apply for specific results to be taken out of Google’s index. This shocking development to the case that stood before the EU court for many years called the ‘right to be forgotten’ has now entered its phase of implementation. If you want to fill out the simple and short online form for the search removal request under European Data Protection law – click here.
Here is a list of the ten most important things you need to know about what happens when you ask Google to unindex certain results about your name:
1. The results must be ‘inadequate, irrelevant or excessive’ - Don’t bother filling in the webform if you want to remove information from Google’s indexed search results, but it doesn’t fall into the categories stated in the EU high court ruling. As Google’s legal team states: “A recent ruling by 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 inadequate, irrelevant or no longer relevant, or excessive in relation to the purposes for which they were processed.” Although you can apply if your claim doesn’t fit within these categories for deletion, there is little chance that Google will in fact remove the unwanted results in the end, so it becomes a big waste of time for all parties involved.
2. Not all applications will eventuate in the removal of the result - Google’s legal advisory committee may decide against your request. As Google states: “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. 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.”
3. It probably won’t happen anytime soon - The most recent reports are that within one day of the webform being online Google already received a staggering 12,000 applications. Upon completing the webform, the applicant receives an automatic email stating “We have received your legal request. We are currently building our system for removing links from our search results according to EU data protection law. In the meantime, your message is in our queue. Once we have our system up and running, we’ll process your request as quickly as our workload permits.” This shows that your application is in a submission queue and there is no set deadline for a decision or action to be taken nor did the EU court ruling include such a stipulation. This suggests to me that certain cases could be drawn out for years.
4. You can only apply to Google if you are a European citizen - It is an EU court ruling that only affects EU citizens and an integral part of the form Google have asked applicants to fill out is a section to upload an identity document proving you are a European citizen. As Google states on the application form: “To prevent fraudulent removal requests from people impersonating others, trying to harm competitors, or improperly seeking to suppress legal information, we need to verify identity. Please attach a legible copy of a document that verifies your identity (or the identity of the person whom you are authorized to represent, as well as proof of your authorization). The document does not need to be a government-issued ID or passport. You may obscure parts of the document (e.g., numbers) as long as the remaining information identifies you. Google will use this information solely to help us authenticate your request and will delete the copy within a month of closing your removal request case except as required by law.”
5. Only applies to Google results pages within the EU - For all of you that want to remove results from Google searches outside of the EU, I’m sad to tell you that won’t happen. For all of those who are pro freedom of speech, then I am happy to tell you that Google is not legally bound, nor is it planning to remove the indexed results from any of its other geographic search engines outside of the EU. That means that if you successfully get Google to take down indexed results from Google.co.uk , those same results will still be accessible to people searching for your name in Google.com, Google.com.au etc.
6. Only individuals can apply - The EU ruling did not relate to companies wanting to clear unwanted results for their business, product or brand names. The ruling was based on a case set before the EU high court by Mario Costeja Gonzalez, who is a Spanish citizen and complained that a search of his personal name on Google showed a few old newspaper articles that he had sold some property that he owned to pay back a loan. Gonzalez claimed that these results were outdated and no longer relevant.
7. What if you have a few variations of your name - No one has made a clear policy of what happens if you are known by a number of names, nicknames alias’s etc. Each application can request the removal of as many results as you want, but for only one search term. That means if you are known as Fred Vesely, Freddy Vesely, Frederick Vesely and The Fredmeister Vesely and the unwanted results show up for all those search terms, it is unclear if you are expected to submit four applications or just accept that you can only remove the results from one of the search terms.
8. What will happen on other search engines - The ruling doesn’t include removing search results from Yahoo, Bing, Yandex, Baidu, Ask and other search engines yet it does set a legal precedent meaning that people could easily demand that these other search engines also take down specific results related to their name (as long as it was on similar grounds to the ruling against Google). Since the EU case was only against Google, the ruling subsequently only applies to Google. Even though Google is the major search engine in use throughout the EU, it doesn’t mean that other search engines will remove results or are legally inclined to do so. None of the other search companies have officially responded to the ruling or stated if they will have a response. That means that the unwanted search results could easily be found on other search engines and might increase their usage throughout the EU since they will have more holistic results.
9. The details will still be kept online - Even when you hear back from Google that you actually had your application accepted and the results were removed, they will still be kept in the internet archive www.chillingeffects.org which is a joint project of the Electronic Frontier Foundation and Harvard, Stanford, Berkeley, etc law schools to “help users understand the protections that the First Amendment and intellectual property laws give to your online activities”. Visit the site for more of the incredible work this organization does for the protection of the rights of freedom of speech and its legal internet database of cases if cease and desist.
10. Google will state that results have been removed - Another thing that will make the victory of Google telling you that the unwanted results that you have requested taken down a little more sour is that at the bottom of any search page that has had results removed, the following message will appear: “In response to a complain we received, X number of results have been removed from this page. If you wish, you may read the DMCA request that caused the removal(s) at ChillingEffects.org” (see image below from Search Engine Land) . Yes that’s right, people will be able to trace things back and find out what you got removed possibly causing more damage to your reputation than if the result was simply left there amongst other results showing a more balanced view.
So are you shocked at these ten interesting facts about the ‘right to be forgotten’ process now online via a Google webform? What’s your opinion about the whole process? Did I miss anything out that you wish to air? Feel free to comment below.