(Corrects number of citizens in third paragraph to 500 million
By Alexei Oreskovic
SAN FRANCISCO May 14 Google Inc is
already getting requests to remove objectionable personal
information from its search engine after Europe's top court
ruled that subjects have the "right to be forgotten," a source
familiar with the matter said on Wednesday.
The world's No. 1 Internet search company has yet to figure
out how to handle an expected flood of requests after Tuesday's
ruling, said the source, who is not authorized to speak on the
record about the issue.
The decision by the Court of Justice of the European Union,
which affects the region's 500 million citizens, requires that
Internet search services remove information deemed "inadequate,
irrelevant or no longer relevant." Failure to do so can result
"There's many open questions," Google Executive Chairman
Eric Schmidt said at the company's annual shareholder meeting on
Wednesday in response to a question about the ruling and its
implications on Google's operations.
"A simple way of understanding what happened here is that
you have a collision between a right to be forgotten and a right
to know. From Google's perspective that's a balance," Schmidt
said. "Google believes having looked at the decision, which is
binding, that the balance that was struck was wrong."
He was not asked about the recent take-down requests.
Google will need to build up an "army of removal experts" in
each of the 28 European Union countries, including those where
Google does not have operations, the source said. Whether those
staffers merely remove controversial links or actually judge the
merits of individual take-down requests are among the many
questions Google has yet to figure out, the source said.
Europeans can submit take-down requests directly to Internet
companies rather than to local authorities or publishers under
the ruling. If a search engine elects not to remove the link, a
person can seek redress from the courts.
The criteria for determining which take-down requests are
legitimate is not completely clear from the decision, said
Jeffrey Rosen, a law professor at the George Washington
University and head of the National Constitution Center.
The ruling seems to give search engines more leeway to
dismiss take-down requests for links to webpages about public
figures, in which the information is deemed to be of public
interest. But search engines may err on the side of caution and
remove more links than necessary to avoid liability, said Rosen,
a long-time critic of such laws. He was asked by Google to speak
to reporters on Tuesday's ruling, but has no formal relationship
with the company.
Search engines will also have to authenticate requests, he
noted, to ensure that the person seeking a link's removal is
actually the one he or she claims to be.
Google is the dominant search engine in Europe, commanding
about 93 percent of the market, according to StatCounter global
statistics. Microsoft Corp's Bing has 2.4 percent and
Yahoo Inc has 1.7 percent.
Google has some experience dealing with take-down requests
in its YouTube video website, which has a process to remove
uploads that infringe copyrights. Google has automated much of
the process with a ContentID system that automatically scans
uploaded videos for particular content that media companies have
provided to YouTube.
Google may be able to create similar technology to address
the EU requirements, said BGC Partners analyst Colin Gillis.
Even if Google does not automate the process, the extra cost
of hiring staffers is likely to be insignificant to a company
that generated roughly $60 billion in revenue last year, Gillis
said. If Google were to pay staffers $15 an hour to process
take-down requests, for example, the company could get a million
hours of work for $15 million, he said. "It's the cost of doing
business for them."
Google has said it is disappointed with the ruling, which it
noted differed dramatically from a non-binding opinion by the
ECJ's court adviser last year. That opinion said deleting
information from search results would interfere with freedom of
Yahoo is "carefully reviewing" the decision to assess the
impact for its business and its users, a spokeswoman said in a
statement. "Since our founding almost 20 years ago, we've
supported an open and free internet; not one shaded by
Microsoft declined to comment.
(Reporting by Alexei Oreskovic; Editing by Richard Chang)