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Google moves on right-to-be-forgotten

Friday, May 30 11:51:13

Google is moving to comply with this month's European Union court ruling that backs the right of citizens to be forgotten online.

Google has devised an online form that Europeans can fill in to request deletion of their online information. It has also created a committee of Internet experts including Wikipedia co-founder Jimmy Wales to advise on the May 13 decision from the EU's top court, which said people may ask search-engine owners to remove personal information and ask a court or data- protection authority to step in if the companies don't comply.

"The court's ruling requires Google to make difficult judgments about an individual's right to be forgotten and the public's right to know," Mountain View, California-based Google said in an e-mailed statement. "We're creating an expert advisory committee to take a thorough look at these issues. We'll also be working with data protection authorities and others as we implement this ruling."

The EU ruling creates headaches for U.S. Web companies, which have businesses based on handling tremendous amounts of data that often aren't touched by humans. It paves the way for European users to flood the firms with Web takedown requests, adding to costs.

Larry Page, Google's chief executive officer, said the EU court may encourage repressive regimes seeking to censor the Internet, according to an interview in the Financial Times.

"It will be used by other governments that aren't as forward and progressive as Europe to do bad things," the FT quoted him as saying. Al Verney, a spokesman for Google in Brussels confirmed Page's comments.

The right-to-be-forgotten ruling was a surprise for companies already bracing themselves for a clampdown on privacy in the 28-nation EU -- as the bloc seeks to increase the powers of data protection watchdogs to impose fines for violations.

Revelations of widespread U.S. spying on EU citizens, including top politicians such as German Chancellor Angela Merkel, have added to the clamor for extra privacy safeguards.

The EU's clampdown on data privacy may make it harder for Internet start-ups, according to Page's FT interview.

"We're a big company and we can respond to these kind of concerns and spend money on them and deal with them, it's not a problem for us," he told the FT. "But as a whole, as we regulate the Internet, I think we're not going to see the kind of innovation we've seen."

Google earlier this month issued a statement calling the ruling "disappointing." At the company's annual shareholder meeting on May 14, Chief Legal Officer David Drummond also said the ruling "went too far" and that the EU court "didn't consider adequately the impact on free expression, which is absolutely a human right."

The new special committee has five members, including Wales, Frank La Rue from the United Nations, Peggy Valcke of the University of Leuven law school, academic Jose Luis Pinar, and Oxford University's Luciano Floridi.

Floridi said in a statement that the committee would evaluate the ethical and legal challenges posed by the Web, "which will probably require some hard and rather philosophical thinking."

The European top court was wrong to force Google to take on the role of "cyberspace's policeman, since from a technical point of view it's an impossible task to remove every single links," Domenico Colella, a lawyer at Orsingher Ortu, in Milan, said in a phone interview.

Mina Andreeva, a spokeswoman for the European Commission, didn't immediately respond to an e-mail seeking comment.

Luxembourg's data authority said in a statement it welcomed Google's "swift reaction." Officials from data watchdogs across the EU will discuss the topic next week, it said.