Google in quandary over how to uphold EU privacy ruling

BRUSSELS Fri May 30, 2014 3:08pm EDT

A computer user poses in front of a Google search page in this photo illustration taken in Brussels May 30, 2014.  REUTERS/Francois Lenoir

A computer user poses in front of a Google search page in this photo illustration taken in Brussels May 30, 2014.

Credit: Reuters/Francois Lenoir

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BRUSSELS (Reuters) - Google and other internet companies find themselves in a quandary over how to strike a balance between privacy and freedom of information as the top world search engine took a first step towards upholding an EU privacy ruling.

Google moved overnight to put up an online form that will allow European citizens to request that links to obsolete information be taken down - its first response to the ruling by Europe's top court on "the right to be forgotten".

The ruling on May 13 upheld a 1995 European law on data protection and ordered Google to remove links to a 1998 newspaper article about the repossession of a Spanish man's home. ]

That puts Google and other internet companies in the position of having to interpret the court's broad criteria for information that is "inadequate, irrelevant or no longer relevant" as well as developing criteria for distinguishing public figures from private individuals.

After putting up the online form in the early hours of Friday, Google received 12,000 requests across Europe, sometimes averaging 20 per minute, by late in the day, the company said.

"The court's ruling requires Google to make difficult judgements about an individual's right to be forgotten and the public's right to know," a Google spokesman said.

Next week representatives from the EU's 28 data protection authorities are due to discuss the implications of the ruling at a two-day meeting.

Digital rights campaigners say the EU authorities need to agree on a common approach to guide the search engine companies.

"Companies should not be tasked with balancing fundamental rights or making decisions on the appropriateness, lawfulness, or relevance of information they did not publish," said Raegan MacDonald, European policy manager at Access, a digital rights organization.


Privacy has been a hot topic in Europe since revelations last year about mass U.S. surveillance programs involving EU citizens and some heads of state.

Europe already has some of the most stringent data protection laws in the world, and the EU Commission has put forward a reform package to strengthen them even further. Member states have yet to agree to the proposals.

It is not the first time that Google has had legal problems over privacy.

In January a German court ordered Google to block search results in Germany linking to photos of a sex party involving former Formula One boss Max Mosley. Two months earlier a French court had also ruled against Google in the Mosley case.

Advocates of freedom of speech have said the May ruling from the Court of Justice of the European Union paves the way for the rich and powerful as well as for criminals to conceal information.

The court allows Google to apply a public interest test in deciding whether to remove the search results. Politicians seeking to have incriminating information removed will probably not be able to benefit, according to lawyers.

In addition, the ruling does not mean that the information in question will be deleted, just the link appearing in search results.

Google said it had convened a committee of senior company executives and independent experts to try and craft a long-term approach to dealing with the barrage of requests.

Yahoo Inc which also operates a search engine in Europe, has said it is "carefully reviewing" the decision to assess the impact for its business and its users.

(Additional reporting by Alexei Oreskovic and Edwin Chan in San Francisco, Shailaja Sharma in Bangalore; editing by Jane Baird)

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Comments (6)
Kahnie wrote:
There is an easy solution. Ask people if they want to “opt out” of any or all selling of information or posting it without permission. That’s easy. One can do this now with many companies, especially with “look ins” by all sorts of companies on credit reports. Google, etc. can do the same thing. They’re bright people.

May 30, 2014 6:35pm EDT  --  Report as abuse
Eric.Klein wrote:
Kahnie that will not work, the way the courts ruled Google needs to take down links to news articles about people – how do you opt out of a news article that is 10 years old?

This is not a technology question but a social one, what constitutes public “right to know” vs. “privacy” in an indexing (search engine) when anyone can put anything up on the internet? Or when articles are ok to publish in a newspaper in one country but not in another (the links to that party are ok in all of the EU except France and Germany).

May 31, 2014 3:29am EDT  --  Report as abuse
KevinMorley wrote:
Easy just make all search engines inaccessible from the EU, watch everyone squirm. Governments will have to start paying more for education and information. Businesses will squeal they can’t be found.

May 31, 2014 9:31am EDT  --  Report as abuse
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