In an unprecedented move, Google (GOOG) launched a service earlier this week that allows European citizens to request personal data be removed from Internet search results.
The move follows a European Union court ruling earlier this month granting individuals the “right to be forgotten” online. Google, which currently processes over 90 percent of all web searches in Europe, said it would approve requests on a case-by-case basis. “When evaluating your request, we will look at whether the results include outdated information about you, as well as whether there’s a public interest in the information,” the company states on the request form. Google reportedly received over 12,000 requests on the service’s first day, or 20 requests per minute.
Here’s how it works: Individuals fill out the online form, which requests an explanation for why a specific Web page should be deemed “irrelevant, outdated, or otherwise inappropriate,” as well as verification like driver’s license, national ID card or other photo ID. If Google grants the request, the web page in question still remains, but it no longer shows up in a Google search. The form isn’t exactly easy to find – it’s tucked away on Google’s legal page – and it only applies to residents of the European Union. U.S. residents are out of luck.
In theory, the “right to be forgotten” service is intended to thwart any potentially offensive personal data online. But critics are concerned Google’s ability to decide which requests are granted empowers them to a new, unparalleled form of Internet censorship.
Even Google appears to have misgivings. “I wish we could just forget the ruling,” Google co-founder Sergey Brin said at this week’s Code Conference in Ranchos Palos Verdes, Calif. And Google Chairman raised a valid point this month when he commented on the issue between “a right to be forgotten’” and the individual’s “right to know.” The question now becomes, where does one draw the line?
For now, that’s up to Google to decide.