AMSTERDAM — Google has begun deleting some search results at the request of its users, following a court ruling that European Union citizens have a right to ask for the removal of embarrassing personal information that pops up on a search of their names.
Several weeks after the May ruling by the European Court of Justice on the so-called “right to be forgotten,” the company set up an online interface for users to register their complaints.
The company said today it has begun taking down results this week. But Google’s European spokesman Al Verney said there is a significant backlog to work through. At last report, more than 50,000 people from multiple nationalities had filed requests to have information removed.
“Each request has to be assessed individually,” Verney said.
The company is not releasing information on what percentage of complaints appear to fall into areas the court specified as potentially objectionable: results that are “inadequate, irrelevant or no longer relevant.”
Europe’s national data protection agencies have said they expect a mixed bag of ‘legitimate’ complaints, as well as some that are clearly not and some borderline cases.
Critics of the ruling say removing result links is censorship, and will lead to politicians and criminals requesting elimination of information. But supporters note the court specified Google should not remove links to information when the public’s right to know about it outweighs an individual’s right to privacy.
Under the system Google has set up, any search on a user’s name from within the European Union is supposed to show a warning that information may have been removed due to privacy considerations, though the system is not yet fully operational.
In cases where the company decides to reject a response to scrub results, it informs the person that complained of its decision. Then it tells them how to contact their national data protection agency if they disagree with the decision and want to pursue the matter further.
Google is only deleting information that appears on its own results pages. It has no control over information on external websites, which did not fall under the court’s ruling.