Requests to be Forgotten: Now on Google

Search provider now logging users' requests to be forgotten

2 min read
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 inNBC 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.)

The Conversation (0)

How the FCC Settles Radio-Spectrum Turf Wars

Remember the 5G-airport controversy? Here’s how such disputes play out

11 min read
This photo shows a man in the basket of a cherry picker working on an antenna as an airliner passes overhead.

The airline and cellular-phone industries have been at loggerheads over the possibility that 5G transmissions from antennas such as this one, located at Los Angeles International Airport, could interfere with the radar altimeters used in aircraft.

Patrick T. Fallon/AFP/Getty Images

You’ve no doubt seen the scary headlines: Will 5G Cause Planes to Crash? They appeared late last year, after the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration warned that new 5G services from AT&T and Verizon might interfere with the radar altimeters that airplane pilots rely on to land safely. Not true, said AT&T and Verizon, with the backing of the U.S. Federal Communications Commission, which had authorized 5G. The altimeters are safe, they maintained. Air travelers didn’t know what to believe.

Another recent FCC decision had also created a controversy about public safety: okaying Wi-Fi devices in a 6-gigahertz frequency band long used by point-to-point microwave systems to carry safety-critical data. The microwave operators predicted that the Wi-Fi devices would disrupt their systems; the Wi-Fi interests insisted they would not. (As an attorney, I represented a microwave-industry group in the ensuing legal dispute.)

Keep Reading ↓Show less