Google starts removing 'right to be forgotten' search results

European Google users may now see a warning when they search for a name

Google has begun removing search results in compliance with a European court ruling that search engine providers must respond to requests to delete links to outdated information about a person.

As of Thursday, when people search for a name via one of Google's European domains they may see a warning displayed at the bottom of the results page saying, "Some results may have been removed under data protection law in Europe."

The notice is shown for most name searches and not just on pages that have been affected by a removal, Google said in a FAQ.

Google said it's working as quickly as possible to get through the queue of requests, which numbered 41,000 as of about a month ago. A Google spokesman would not provide the total number of removal requests received to date.

The warning does not appear on the Google.com domain. The European Union's so-called right to be forgotten will not apply to the Google.com domain because the .com domain is not targeted at the EU in general.

Google is responding to a May ruling by the Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU). The court found that search engines like Google could be compelled upon request to remove results for queries that include a person's name, if the results shown are inadequate, no longer relevant or excessive.

Google said it has been working around the clock to comply since this ruling was published. "This is a complicated process because we need to assess each individual request and balance the rights of the individual to control his or her personal data with the public's right to know and distribute information," the company said.

Individuals make removal requests by filling out an online form which will be reviewed by Google to determine whether the results include outdated information about a person's private life.

Google will also look at whether there's a public interest in the information remaining in its search results -- for example, if it relates to financial scams, professional malpractice, criminal convictions or someone's public conduct as a government official, Google said.

"These are difficult judgements and as a private organization, we may not be in a good position to decide on [specific cases]," Google said, adding that it might take a while to assess and act on individual removal requests "because we have already received many such requests." It said that individuals who disagree with its decisions can contact their local data protection authority.

Loek Essers is Amsterdam correspondent and covers online privacy, intellectual property, open-source and online payment issues for the IDG News Service. Follow him on Twitter at @loekessers or email tips and comments to loek_essers@idg.com

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