Google: We Acted Quickly On Right To Be Forgotten Requests To Avoid Litigation
Company has received 160,000 requests to date and denied 58 percent.
Although there was little guidance on how to handle “Right To Be Forgotten” (RTBF) requests, Google’s PR Chief in Europe says the company acted quickly to process those requests and remove some URLs out of a fear of being sued.
Peter Barron, the head of Google’s European communications, told a packed session today at the Web Summit in Ireland that the company would’ve liked more guidance from the European Court of Justice on how to handle the thousands of requests it started receiving soon after the ruling was announced in May.
“The terms of the ruling were vague,” he said. “There wasn’t guidance as to how we should implement it. But we respected the court’s ruling and decided to follow it. Should we have waited for official guidance? We’ve had 160,000 requests, so our feeling was that we could’ve opened ourself up to litigation if we didn’t act.”
Google was criticized when it started notifying publishers affected by the RTBF removals, and for how it added a blanket removal notice on some search results pages. Some critics suggested that Google was doing that to make a mockery of the ruling, or to make it appear that the company lacked the resources to implement RTBF more precisely. Not so, according to Barron.
“We weren’t processing requests in a way to save money, or make a point about the ruling itself, as was reported and suggested in the coverage,” Barron said. “When the ruling was announced, we said we were ‘disappointed’ by it, but we didn’t say anything stronger than that.”
Barron says Google now has “scores” of employees and paralegal assistants working on RTBF requests as they come in. In a funny back-and-forth with reporters from The Guardian, who were also on the panel, Barron wouldn’t reveal the exact number, but said it was more than dozens and less than a hundred — settling on “scores” as the best answer. And all of that is being done with a human touch, not via algorithms or automation.
“We’ve taken the view that every case requires human intervention and judgment,” Barron said. “Now, some cases are easy and quick. But some require a huge amount of thought, and weighing the pros and cons — often with very little information.”
UK Data Regulator: More Guidance Coming Soon
A UK data official, also part of the panel, announced that privacy regulators are aiming to release guidelines this month for Google and other search engines to follow when dealing with RTBF requests.
Steve Wood, Head of Policy Delivery for the UK Information Commissioner’s Office, says the guidelines will help everyone understand better how the ruling should work in practice.
“Even in the data protection community, we admit the [court’s] decision didn’t get into enough details. We’re making good progress and hope to publish some guidance criteria by the end of November across Europe,” Wood said. “This is going to be a long, long process. It’s good that we’re moving away from the myths and misunderstandings and finding solutions.”
After the initial criticism of how it notified publishers about content removals, Barron says Google changed the wording to say that the removal request may not have come from the person that the article or web page is written about. But regardless of the upcoming guidance from the data privacy regulators, Barron says Google doesn’t plan to stop notifying publishers when a URL is removed under RTBF.
“We think notifications to publishers is extremely important,” he said. “We think it would be very dangerous to be in a world where we’re removing things without letting anyone know about it.”
Barron said Google has received about 160,000 RTBF requests so far, involving more than 500,000 URLs. He says Google has denied about 58 percent of those requests. (Forget.me, which runs a paid RTBF removal submission service, says 60 percent of its requests have been denied.) Search engines can deny removal requests when, for example, they find the online information to be of strong public interest and/or about a public figure.