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Google Struggling With Influx Of "Right To Be Forgotten" Requests

The company's chief legal officer outlines the difficulties Google is facing in order to comply with European Union’s mandate.

[Photo by Joel Arbaje for Fast Company]

After Europe’s highest court ordered Google to delete search results at the request of its users, Google’s team is now feeling the enormity of "the right to be forgotten." The legal concept gives citizens of the European Union control over what surfaces about them on the internet by forcing Google to remove specific links flagged by users.

In a recent opinion piece in The Guardian, David Drummond, Google’s senior vice-president for corporate development and chief legal officer, outlines the issues Google is facing in order to comply with European Union’s mandate. So far, there have been more than 70,000 take-down requests spanning 250,000 web pages since the court’s ruling in May. A team has been tasked to review every removal request—requests that, as Drummond says, often have "limited information and almost no context." He goes on to mention Google failing to qualify for "journalistic exception," meaning that while a news website may legally post an article about a person, Google may not be able to legally index that article for search.

The main concern at hand for Google, however, is how to deal with value judgments; that is to say, what should or shouldn’t been made known about a person in the interest of the public, or, as Drummond puts it, "how to balance one person's right to privacy with another's right to know." To help make blurred lines a little clearer, Google has assembled a committee comprised of experts in tech, academia, media, data protection, and civil society to serve as independent advisers to the company, producing public reports on recommendations for difficult removal requests and implications of the court’s ruling.

Drummond admits to hiccups in the process (links to articles that were incorrectly removed and later reinstated), but he says Google is open to feedback and debate for such a "complex issue, with no easy answers."

Read Drummond's full post here.