Google has recently made some first steps in complying with the recent EU ruling that individuals may have some information about themselves removed from search results as part of a “right to be forgotten.” However, while Google has done a lot in a very short time to comply with the ruling in spite of the company’s own disappointment with the controversial decision, there remain strict limitations in place. Some of these limitations are with the ruling itself, and show no signs of going away however closely Google complies with the law.
Google recently created a webform through which people are able to request the removal of content. Individuals completing the form will have to explain their reasons for considering the content “irrelevant, outdated or otherwise inappropriate.” Under the EU ruling, it is only this type of content that can be removed in order to prevent negative media coverage from a person’s past continuing to dominate any search engine query relating to that individual. Those submitting requests will also have to specify which European jurisdiction they reside in and provide digital copies of identification in order to prove their personal eligibility.
However, by Google’s own admission these efforts are in the early stages. The form is just an “initial effort” with significant changes and improvements to the company’s systems still expected in the months to come.
Furthermore, the EU ruling is disappointingly non-specific even for some of those who agree with the European Court of Justice’s decision. The type of content specified as eligible for removal is extremely broad, and at the same time vague enough to make it difficult to specify any one type of content. For their part, Google seem to have adopted a fairly narrow interpretation. Once a removal request has been received, they will weigh up whether the information’s availability is in the public interest, and if they feel that it is the request is likely to be rejected. When it comes to the public interest, Google seem to have matters such as financial fraud, misconduct and professional malpractice in mind.
There are also some limitations that will never be overcome by Google’s efforts alone. This fact will not be unwelcome to the many who have disagreed with the EU Court of Justice’s ruling, but will certainly disappoint those who are hoping to have negative media coverage buried. For a start, the ruling relates only to search engine results. It will still be accessible through links on other websites and searches within the news website itself. Secondly, it only applies to search engines focussed on markets within the EU. Through the nature of the internet, it is extremely easy for individuals within the EU to access search engines outside EU jurisdictions in which the results may still appear, and this could include Google’s own, main .com domain.