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An Unforgettable Burden on Google


Google rolls out its response to the European privacy ruling.

The virtual complaint desk at Google (GOOG) is now open for business, and, boy, does this company have its work cut out for it.
The page is for Europeans who wish to exercise their "right to be forgotten."
That right was upheld by the high court of the European Union two weeks ago. The ruling asserts that it is Google's responsibility to scrub links to information about a private individual from its search returns on demand if the information is irrelevant or outdated. The ruling was effective immediately.
Anyone in 32 European nations now has the right to demand that Google respect his or her "right to be forgotten."
The court order applies to all search engines, but not to news sites or other sites that actually generate content. Google is used for more than 90% of Web searches in Europe.
The practical implications are mind-boggling. Google is supposed to decide whether an unflattering fact about one person is, or may be, a fact of relevance to someone else. Or, whether it may turn out to be a fact of importance 20 years, or 100 years, from now.
Perhaps the embarrassing fact shares a page with other facts that are of value to others. Keep in mind, too, that embarrassing facts have a tendency to go viral, so Google might be required to remove results that link to any page on any site across the entire Web that contain a link to that fact, regardless of the value of the rest of the facts on those pages.
Naturally, all of the above assumes that the demand is reasonable and legitimate, and that Google can confirm that it's reasonable and legitimate.
Or, for that matter, that Google can define reasonable and legitimate.
Then again, since Google is not actually removing any content from the Web or blocking access to it, you could conclude that it doesn't matter anyway, except to Google's business and to the quality and integrity of its core product.
Ah, well. Maybe this whole thing is best forgotten. Let's just demand that Google remove all of its search links to this story. . .
Oh, wait! The court ruling applies only to European Google sites. So, we can demand that the links be removed from and, but the links will still be displayed to users of
Absurd it may be, but it's a court order, and Google responded to it on Friday with a Web form.  Europeans can use the form to request removal of search results for queries that mention their names in a context that is "inadequate, irrelevant or no longer relevant, or excessive in relation to the purposes for which they were processed."
The page says that Google will assess each request individually, and attempt to balance the individual's right to privacy with the public's right to know.
Good luck with that. The company said it received more than 24,000 requests in the first 24 hours after the page went up.
Google appears to have been blindsided by the court's ruling. Its response has been restrained -- possibly in the hope that it can persuade the court to reconsider the case.
In an interview with the British newspaper The Financial Times, CEO Larry Page said, "I wish we'd been more involved in a real debate. . .in Europe. That's one of the things we've taken from this, that we're starting the process of really going and talking to people."
In the interview, Page offered only two concerns about the ruling: that it would hurt start-ups that lack the resources to respond to such demands, and that it could be misused as a censorship tool by repressive governments.
In countries outside of the European Union, Google can stick to its standard policy, which is telling users who want links removed from its search engine that they must appeal to the publishers of the information.
At least, that is the policy for now. Google has announced that it is setting up an advisory panel that will offer recommendations on how the company can cope with "the right to be forgotten," not just in Europe but around the world.

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