On the Internet, the truism goes, content lingers forever. But now Google—under pressure from the Court of Justice of the European Union—will give anyone living in the EU the opportunity to delete the search-engine results leading to that content.
Thanks to the Court’s recent ruling, EU citizens can ask Google to remove results on the grounds of the associated links being “inadequate, irrelevant or no longer relevant, or excessive in relation to the purposes for which they were processed.”
Google has responded with a removal-request form, which it describes as an “initial effort” that it will improve over subsequent months. Anyone requesting link removals must submit a valid form of photo ID, in order to reduce the number of “fraudulent removal requests from people impersonating others, trying to harm competitors, or improperly seeking to suppress legal information.” In addition to personal information, the form asks for the URLs the requester wants removed from search-engine results, as well as an explanation for why those URLs are “irrelevant, outdated, or otherwise inappropriate.”
For anyone hoping the form will allow them to scrub the Web of their presence, there’s a slight catch: Google will assess requests “and attempt to balance the privacy rights of the individual with the public’s right to know and distribute information.” If you’ve committed a crime, scammed someone, or ended up the target of a corruption probe, chances are pretty good that Google won’t let those links fade from view.
The ruling puts Google in a somewhat thorny position, with CEO Larry Page suggesting in an interview with The Financial Times that regulating search results could start the Internet down a slippery slope to more widespread censorship: “It will be used by other governments that aren’t as forward and progressive as Europe to do bad things. Other people are going to pile on, probably . . . for reasons most Europeans would find negative.”
Google, of course, makes money off total online transparency: the more comprehensive its search results, the more people will continue to use its service, and the more revenue it can generate off targeted ads as a result. If other countries take up the EU’s “right to be forgotten” banner, it could add a layer of legislative complexity to Google’s operations that no company—no matter how large and well-monetized—would ever want to face.
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