Earlier this month, a European Union court ruled that Google has to honor requests from users who want certain unflattering search results removed from their site, based on the legal principle that people have the right to be "forgotten" online. Google is now faced with the major challenge of implementing a "forget" process into their systems, both to filter through the overwhelming number of requests and to address them accordingly. It has already led to some expected issues: disgraced politicians want their sour statements removed and businesses want unfavorable reviews stripped.
On Friday, Google launched a new form where Europeans can request a deletion and they have put together a committee of experts to advise them through the creation of a more formal procedure. The obvious concerns are that ruling could encourage censorship, which Google fears and wants to stay away from, so they are left with a balancing act. Larry Page, Google's CEO, has said, “It will be used by other governments that aren’t as forward and progressive as Europe to do bad things." The legal principles behind the EU's "right to be forgotten" ruling and the public's "right to know" don't apply equally, everywhere on the globe.
As for the logistics, much of the data found on Google is not handled by actual humans very often. Now, they will need to manually pour through the data when determining validity of removal requests. Alex Mason, lawyer at Baker Botts LLP told Businessweek, “the more they resist taking down requests, the more it won’t apply consistently across countries and the greater the number of appeals you will get which will add to time and cost.” If Google decides to comply with all requests, they could fully automate the system easily, but even with zero resistance (which is highly, highly unlikely), there are major development efforts to be made.
Since they are such a large company with an exceptional development team, we could expect to see a solution soon, but it will take some creativity to find something that works for the EU court (and those who wish to be forgotten) without undermining Google's stance against censorship or their standing in the all the nations they do business in. And all without driving their engineers nuts.
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.