Requests to be Forgotten: Now on Google

Photo-Illustration: Randi Klett; Erasers: Getty Images

Time to do some spring cleaning on your Google vanity search. Tired of looking up your name only to find reminders of past bankruptcies or acrimonious court cases? If you can persuade Google or a European data protection agency that search results about you are “inadequate, irrelevant or no longer relevant, or excessive in relation to the purposes for which they were processed," then the search provider will have to remove the links. The form for making such requests went up today but the company says it has not yet begun processing them.

The form is a response to a 13 May court ruling that subjects Google's search results to the same data protection rules as other handlers of personal data. Now the company must strike a balance between individual privacy rights and the public value of information an individual requests removed. The Wall Street Journal reports that the firm has formed a committee of outside experts including Wikipedia co-founder Jimmy Wales, to help with the decision-making. The WSJ, citing an unnamed source, says that the 28 European Union data authorities will meet in early June to standardize how they will apply the ruling.

That could make Google and other search engine providers' jobs easier by offering a single set of rules. Standardization might also quiet the squawking of experts who warn that the ruling poses "serious technological challenges," (quoted in NBC News) or those who fear “a balkanization of search results” (quoted in The New York Times). Yet Google and other search engines already tailor search results to the country, hardware, and log-in information of the searcher. Google also already has processes in place for responding to millions of YouTube copyright infringement complaints and for the removal of personal details such as financial information or government identification numbers.

The real technical challenges lie in figuring out how to share data on a temporary basis, and to prevent recipients from copying or re-transmitting it, as IEEE Spectrum wrote soon after the ruling. There are billions of dollars waiting for someone who can figure that out. (And perhaps more than $3 billion even for those, such as Snapchat, who've only come close.)

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