Google committee to advise on ‘right to be forgotten’ (Wired UK)


Google has launched an Advisory Council
on the so-called ‘right to be forgotten’ to help it decide how best
to implement a ruling made by the European Court of Justice last
month. Following the ruling, which saw a man from Spain granted the
right to have a link to a story about him removed from search
listings, Google has been forced to put in place a process that
allows anyone to request the removal of links.

Despite responding quickly to the ruling by setting up a system
to allow people to make requests, the decision-making process from
that point onwards has been somewhat shambolic, with some links
that are clearly in the public interest being removed and then
reinstated. There has been speculation that Google has purposefully
been making a hash of the process and emphasising the fact that
many requests have been made by politicians and other public
figures or violent criminals in order to make the point that it is
not its place to regulate the internet.

The search giant obviously never wanted to be put in the
position of enforcing censorship, and yet that is where it has
found itself. Already Google removes some results — those that
lead to defamation as ruled by a court, to pirated content,
malware, personal information like bank details, sexual abuse
imagery — but these things have been clearly defined as

As the company’s top lawyer David Drummond points out writing in the Guardian
, it has taken “two decades’ worth of investment and
innovation” to make search as refined and sophisticated as it is
today, and to make sure it operates in accordance with freedom of
opinion and expression as defined under the Universal Declaration
of Human Rights. The last thing Google wants to do now is undo its
hard work by returning search results lacking the valuable
information that people are hunting for.

Drummond singles out the fact that the ruling decided that
search engines don’t qualify for a “journalistic exception, and
points to the fact that it is having to remove links to articles to
perfectly valid examples of journalism that contain no illegal
content whatsoever. “It’s a bit like saying the book can stay in
the library but cannot be included in the library’s card
catalogue,” he writes. “It’s for these reasons that we disagree
with the ruling. That said, we obviously respect the court’s
authority and are doing our very best to comply quickly and
responsibly.” He does reiterate though that the company has been

This is why Google has set up the Advisory Council. With each of
the thousands of requests that have come through to Google so far,
the company has had to review them on a case by case and decide
whether they are “inadequate, irrelevant or no longer relevant, or
excessive” — the criteria provided in the court ruling for deeming
whether or not a link should be removed. Now Google wants the input
of experts, and wants to hear your opinion too.

“How should one person’s right to be forgotten be balanced with
the public’s right to know?” the company asks at the top of a page
introducing the new council. Further down is a form that allows
you to tell Google exactly what you think of the European Court
. The company also uses the page to introduce the members
of its new advisory committee. The committee includes internal
Google execs including Eric Schmidt and David Drummond, and
external influencers such as Wikipedia’s Jimmy Wales, editorial
director of Le Monde, Sylvie Kauffman and human rights
lawyer and UN rapporteur Frank La Rue.

The committee will hold consultations in Europe this autumn,
which will be both live streamed and recorded. After this the the
committee will publish its findings, which will inform “evolving
policies in this area”. It will also invite contributions from
government, business, media, academia and other organisations with
an interest in human rights and privacy.

“We also hope the Advisory Council’s findings will also be
useful to others that may be affected by the court’s ruling. We all
have a shared interest in giving proper effect to the Court’s
decision, finding the best possible balance on this issue,” Google
says. This is a fair point — Google is far from the only search
engine operating within the EU, but as the most prominent, the
responsibility has fallen on its head to lead the way in deciding
how the ruling should be implemented.

As to whether Google may have been trying to palm off the
responsibility of dealing with the ruling, Drummond writes that
Google is “committed to complying with the court’s decision” and
that “it’s hard not to empathise with some of the requests that
we’ve seen”. It’s clear that the “robust debate” Google is calling
for is going to continue for some time yet, but hopefully somewhere
along the line a process will formulate that will minimise the
opportunities for further errors and will allow Google to still
offer the quality of search we have become accustomed to.

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