Google looks for public input on right to be forgotten

Google sets up series of public meetings in European cities to discuss privacy

privacy please
Josh Hallett

Google is planning a series of seven public meetings across Europe to discuss balancing people's right to be forgotten with the public's right to information.

The Google Advisory Council announced the meetings and said the first one will be held in Madrid on Tuesday.

Other public meetings will be held in Rome, Paris, Warsaw, Berlin and London. The last one will take place in Brussels on Nov. 4.

"A recent ruling by the Court of Justice of the European Union found that European law gives people the right to ask search engines like Google to remove results for queries that include their name," the council said in a statement. "Since then, we've received removal requests on all sorts of content: serious criminal records, embarrassing photos, instances of online bullying and name-calling, decades-old allegations, negative press stories, and more."

Google goes over each removal request, weighing the individual's right to privacy against the public's right to know.

"We want to strike this balance right," Google's advisory council wrote. "This obligation is a new and difficult challenge for us, and we're seeking advice on the principles Google ought to apply when making decisions on individual cases.… We're just getting started, but during this process we also want to hear your input, too -- this is all about your rights online, and the Internet provides an incredible forum for discussion and debate."

Last spring, Europe's top court ordered Google to allow people to essentially edit their online personal histories.

The ruling mandated that people can ask Google -- and other search engines, like Yahoo or Microsoft's Bing -- to delete links to their outdated information on the Internet. People, the court contends, have the right to be forgotten.

People can file requests for information removal directly with the search engine company. Then Google must examine the requests to determine whether the information in question is still relevant. If it isn't, the links to Web pages containing that information must be removed, unless maintaining easy access to the information is in the best interest of the public, according to the court.

As part of its efforts to figure out how to best comply with the court's ruling, Google is convening a council of experts to help the company set up standards to use when judging each removal request.

The 10-member council includes Google Executive Chairman Eric Schmidt; Luciano Floridi, a professor of philosophy and information ethics at the University of Oxford; Sylvie Kauffmann, editorial director at the French newspaper Le Monde; and Lidia Kolucka-Zuk, executive director for the Warsaw-based Trust for Civil Society in Central and Eastern Europe.

Once the meetings have been held, Google will publish its findings, which will help the company shape its policy on the right to be forgotten.

"The council will also invite contributions from government, business, media, academia, the technology sector, data protection organizations and other organizations with a particular interest in the area, to surface and discuss the challenging issues at the intersection of the right to information and the right to privacy," Google noted.

Google declined to comment further on the hearings.

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