Ireland’s privacy watchdogs are investigating complaints from 18 people who were told by Google that they wouldn’t “be forgotten” from search results.
In May, the European Court of Justice (ECJ) ruled that people could demand the takedown of links to embarrassing information about themselves from web search results – but only in specific circumstances.
Since then the search giant claims it has been inundated with requests to remove links to pages that people believe are “outdated or irrelevant”. In the landmark ECJ ruling, which many believe created a “right to be forgotten”, a Spanish national – Mario Costeja González – argued that it was unfair that Google’s search results for his name pointed to a 10-year-old notice about a mortgage foreclosure.
Since then Google says it has received more than 135,000 requests for the removal of links representing more 470,000 URLs. Google spokesman Al Verney said that latest figures in July indicated the corp has refused only about 30 per cent of demands, about 50 per cent were taken down, and the rest required more details from the submitters.
The Irish data-protection authorities are now looking into 18 specific cases because it had received direct complaints about Google's handling of their demands from the individuals concerned.
Concerns about the ruling have been raised by civil liberties campaigners, who say that removing links to legal and accurate information is harming freedom of speech. Notably, news publishers have had links to their stories blocked, sometimes at the behest of a reader-submitted comment that's not part of the main article. Although media giants are notified via Google webmaster tools when this happens, there is no formal means of redress.
The Irish Data Protection Commissioner's office said it could not investigate this element of the ruling. “Our remit does not include dealing with complaints from organisations that have had search results to their websites removed from a search engine,” said a spokeswoman. However the watchdog is part of Europe's Article 29 Working Party of data protection authorities, which is working on guidance for this issue.
It's worth bearing in mind that Helen Dixon, the Irish Data Protection Commissioner, is new to job: she succeeded Billy Hawkes in mid September. ®