Google CEO yields to European privacy ruling

May 30, 2014, 10:52 AM UTC
© Anna Kuperberg 2012

Google’s (GOOG) chief executive Larry Page softened his tone in the company’s dispute with Europe over privacy rights, saying the company needs to engage more with Europe and be more sensitive to its concerns.

“We’re trying now to be more European and think about it maybe more from a European context,” Page said in an interview with the Financial Times, published Friday. “A very significant amount of time is going to be spent in Europe talking.”

Google has had a number of privacy-related run-ins in Europe over recent years, notably over unauthorised data collection by the vehicles it used to put its Street View service together. But it suffered a major setback two weeks ago when the European Union’s top court ruled that individuals should have a “right to be forgotten” on the internet, allowing them to force companies such as Google to remove embarrassing material about them from their searches.

The FT said that Google will announce two measures Friday reacting to the court’s ruling. From Friday, it will start offering users an online mechanism to request the removal of links relating to them from Google search results. Users will have to give the URL of the offending material, plus their home country and a reason for why they think the link should disappear, the FT said. The links will be start to be ‘disappeared’ from the middle of June. The links will only be removed from Google’s local search pages, and will continue to be available on, the FT said. They’ll also continue to be available on the sites where they were originally published.

Google also intends to set up a new committee headed by former CEO Eric Schmidt and chief legal officer David Drummond, and also including Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales, to advise it on how to deal with privacy issues, the FT said.

Despite signalling a new approach, Page was still critical of the ruling, saying it would harm start-ups that don’t have the capacity to deal with complex regulatory demands. He also warned that the ruling will encourage more repressive regimes to censor the internet more broadly.

“It will be used by other governments that aren’t as forward and progressive as Europe to do bad things,” Page said.  “Other people are going to pile on, probably . . . for reasons most Europeans would find negative.”