Google et al slammed by justice chief over 'right to be forgotten'

Filed Under: Featured, Google, Law & order, Organisations, Privacy

Question mark. Image courtesy of ShutterstockEurope’s Commissioner for Justice, Martine Reicherts, has slammed Google and other opponents of the 'right to be forgotten' ruling, claiming that they are attempting to undermine the reform.

Speaking to the IFLA World Library and Information Congress in Lyon, France, Reicherts said the European Union had come a long way in reforming rules centred around the protection of personal data but highlighted how certain parties were attempting to knock the wheels off the speeding cart:

Just as work on this reform has picked up speed and urgency, detractors are attempting to throw a new spanner in the works. They are trying to use the recent ruling by the European Court of Justice on the right to be forgotten to undermine our reform. They have got it wrong. And I will not let them abuse this crucial ruling to stop us from opening the digital single market for our companies and putting in place stronger protection for our citizens.

The Right to be Forgotten ruling, which was approved by the European Court of Justice in May, requires search engines to remove links that are deemed "inadequate, irrelevant or no longer relevant, or excessive in relation to the purposes for which they were processed."

Google responded by launching its ‘right to be forgotten’ request form at the end of May and Bing followed two months later.

Google has already received over a quarter of a million removal requests.

Concerns surrounding the ruling include the potential impact on freedom of speech and the European digital economy as well as the challenges it presents to smaller search engines, as reflected in a recent report from the UK’s House of Lords:

In our view the judgment is unworkable. It ignores the effect on smaller search engines which, unlike Google, may not have the resources to consider individually large numbers of requests for the deletion of links.

Reicherts is unperturbed though, arguing that opponents of the ruling, including Google which she explicitly named, have taken issue largely over how it will affect their ability to profit from their customers’ data:

Search engines such as Google and other affected companies complain loudly. But they should remember this: handling citizens' personal data brings huge economic benefits to them. It also brings responsibility. These are two sides of the same coin, you cannot have one without the other.

Reicherts continued:

Those who try to use distorted notions of the right to be forgotten to discredit the reform proposals are playing false. We must not fall for this. Indeed, we must keep working hard to ensure the new rules are adopted as soon as possible.

Europe needs them urgently to revive economic growth and job creation. And it needs them to make sure that the rights of its citizens are upheld and protected.

The new rules in question - part of an EU General Data Protection framework which has been worked on for two and a half years - are scheduled to be in place by 2015.

Image of question mark courtesy of Shutterstock.

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11 Responses to Google et al slammed by justice chief over 'right to be forgotten'

  1. Andrew Ludgate · 414 days ago

    The right to be forgotten is needed "urgently to revive economic growth and job creation?" Really? Or is this talking about a different part of the framework, and Reicherts is arguing that messing with the "right to be forgotten" part is holding up the rest of the framework? I sense the level of frustration Reicherts is feeling at the opposition from interested parties, but I have yet to see a solid explanation regarding how the current version of the framework accomplishes what it sets out to do, without incurring multiple side effects that negatively impact economic growth, job creation, and use of personal data.

    I think it's obvious that reform is needed, but this needs to be not only well thought out but also well communicated reform. The current messaging appears to be reactive instead of communicating "teaching points" regarding impact. That's not to say that the reform is bad or good, but just that the effort appears to be placed in getting the reforms into law quickly instead of getting the reforms understood and accepted by the people and companies that will be depending on them.

  2. goat · 414 days ago

    Right to be forgotten was a bad idea the moment news articles started disappearing because of it.

    • Steve Moody · 413 days ago

      No news articles have disappeared because of it. Do you work for Google?

  3. The only way the "Right to be Forgotten" *might* work is if the government set up their own request form and database with an API for search engines to use and clear privacy terms for the verification process. Requiring a team to handle it is too much burden on smaller search engines. Google wouldn't be where it is today if it didn't have the freedom it had. Submitting individual requests to every single search engine wouldn't actually remove anything from the internet, and the more search engines that popped up the more requests you have to fill out.

    With an API it would make it easy for search engines to pull the list and use very little development time, but it would then mean that there's a central database of every URL that someone wanted taken down; which completely defeats the purpose unless the URL was essentially gibberish. Most news sites include the title in the URL, though.

    It's pretty much unworkable, regardless of how you do it.

    • Err, I guess some kind of "hash" would work, but even those are eventually reversible. If not by brute force then a dictionary crawler that spends it's entire time hashing urls and storing the original.

      • maggotification · 413 days ago

        Hashes are not reversible. A rainbow table, as you're suggesting here, would be easily defeated by proper use of salts.

        Besides, hashing would defeat the entire purpose of this purposed API as Google (for example) wouldn't be able to block the URL without knowing the original URL, which they couldn't get from the hash alone.

  4. Robert Poston · 414 days ago

    > Europe needs them urgently to revive economic growth and job creation.

    Can someone please elaborate on how the right to be forgotten ruling will revive economic growth? Sure it might create some jobs for the thankless task of processing all the removal requests, but I would have thought that the overall economic effects would be negative?

    Either way, shouldn't the driving force behind right to be forgotten be moral principle, irrespective of its economic effects?

  5. This so called justice chief is a fool. He's clueless at what's involved in doing it too. Maybe he should personally pay the companies for the work involved in removing the links. Does he think they push a button and the link is gone forever?

  6. cdg · 412 days ago

    If the EU really were concerned about the individuals right to be forgotten here, they'd change rules about what's actually in the public record. Search engines can't find data that don't exist. Why aren't they forcing newspapers and other publishers to remove data the EU deem to no longer be public? Then no search engine would find it in current results. They don't do that because there are local constituencies (the newspapers) who would raise holy hell.

    It wasn't Google (or Bing. or Yahoo. or any search engine. or even the newspaper) who decided that a bankruptcy was a matter of public record. It was the government itself. And now they want Google to shoehorn some sort of expiration on that "public"-ness that the law doesn't contemplate or enforce on any other entity. That's bizarre and unworkable.

  7. 4caster · 412 days ago

    No-one should have the right for his or her past to be forgotten, and that applies even more to organisations.
    If I ask Google for "Miscarriages of justice", for example, I expect Google to list sites that contain information on them.
    I don't expect Google to have removed links to sites because the police deem them "inadequate, irrelevant or no longer relevant, or excessive in relation to the purposes for which they were processed".

    • Paul Ducklin · 412 days ago

      But many countries expressly have "right to have your past forgotten" laws precisely because people can be harsh and unreasonable judges (or can use your past as an excuse for their own prejudiced present).

      That's why many jurisdictions have concepts like spent convictions, so that it is possible to escape from under the opprobrium of a criminal record.

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About the author

Lee Munson is the founder of Security FAQs, a social media manager with BH Consulting and a blogger with a huge passion for information security.