Google already fielding requests from EU ‘right to be forgotten’ decision, report says


PHILIPPE HUGUEN/AFP/Getty Images

The consequences week's European court decision affirming the "right to be forgotten" online may have already started affecting search engines there.

Europe's highest court said Tuesday that individual Web users there can demand that Google remove links to embarrassing personal information online; the court did make exceptions for public figures and in cases where removing links to the information would go against the public interest.

By Thursday, the BBC reported, Google was already flooded with requests to have information removed, including one from a man convicted of possessing images of child abuse who has asked that links to news about his conviction be scrubbed from the search engine's results.

The ruling requires search engines like Google to develop a way to process those requests, but gave little guidance on how to go about it. And, as BBC reported, there's a great number of people who would like to see a link or two about them removed.

Google declined to comment on the volume of requests it has received since the ruling. But the firm did say that the ruling is expected to greatly affect how it conducts business.

“The ruling has significant implications for how we handle takedown requests. This is logistically complicated - not least because of the many languages involved and the need for careful review. As soon as we have thought through exactly how this will work, which may take several weeks, we will let our users know," Google said in a statement.

Yahoo has also said court's decision will force the company to examine its business practices. Microsoft, which operates the Bing search engine, declined to comment on the ruling.

The decision came as a surprise to many tech companies, including Google, particularly after the court's advocate general filed an opinion last year that said search engines should not be required to field those requests.

Critics of the ruling, including the American Civil Liberties Union, have said that the decision infringes too much on a right to free expression and free access to information without making meaningful gains for individual privacy. But many privacy advocates, as The Post reported, saw the ruling as an affirmation that the right to privacy is a fundamental one -- at least, that is, in Europe.

In remarks to Google shareholders Wednesday, the company's executive chairman Eric Schmidt said that he, too, believes that the decision struck the wrong balance between what he called a "right to be forgotten and a right to know."

Hayley Tsukayama covers consumer technology for The Washington Post.
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Hayley Tsukayama | May 15