Google has today announced how it intends to deal with the European Court's judgment in the Google Spain case. In today's Financial Times Google's CEO, Larry Page, has confirmed that Google will take steps to recognise individuals' "right to be forgotten" in appropriate cases. It will do so by introducing an online mechanism for users to request the removal from search results of links to data that are outdated.
The online form can be found here: https://support.google.com/legal/contact/lr_eudpa?product=websearch&hl=en. The form is an expansion of the service Google already offers users to assist in the removal of content for legal reasons. The principal landing page for assistance in the removal of content under applicable laws is here:https://support.google.com/legal/troubleshooter/1114905?hl=en. By accessing that page, users are directed to the most appropriate place for reporting allegedly unlawful content. That destination will depend on the nature of the Google service (Web Search, Blogger, YouTube etc) and also the nature of the request (trade mark infringement, phishing, defamatory content etc). Requests for removal of web search results on the ground that those results allegedly infringe European privacy law will generate the new online form.
Google has pledged that it "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." In evaluating takedown requests, it "will look at whether the results include outdated information about you, as well as whether there’s a public interest in the information". This is the balancing exercise envisaged by the European Court in its judgment.
Following the judgment, Google has already received many requests for removal of material alleged to infringe individuals' data protection rights. Mr Page has made it clear that Google will subject such requests to proper scrutiny. He has warned that public figures cannot expect automatic compliance with takedown requests and that there are risks from putting any kind of limitations on publication: “Certainly, I worry about the effect that might have on democracy over time if we don’t do that perfectly.” But he has acknowledged that "everyday people" have a more legitimate right to suppress search links.
It is important that individuals seeking removal, and any lawyers who may be representing them, should themselves consider the appropriateness of their requests. As a practical matter, it is also vital if the mechanism is to operate smoothly that users employ the online form and follow the instructions carefully. In particular, users will be required to:
- Provide the URL for each link appearing in a Google search for their name that they request to be removed. (The form explains that the URL can be taken from the user's browser bar after clicking on the search result in question.)
- Explain, if not clear, why the linked page is about the user (or, if the user is submitting the form on behalf of someone else, why it is about that person).
- Explain how the URL in the search results is "irrelevant, outdated, or otherwise inappropriate" (being the words used in the judgment).
Google has made it clear that its new online form is an "initial effort" and it will look forward to working with users and data protection authorities to make the system work.