Google has been hit by more than 12,000 requests to erase links to personal history after a landmark European court ruling, Reuters reports. On May 13th, the top European court upheld a law that requires Google to erase “inadequate, irrelevant or no longer relevant” information from search results if individuals request so.
One problem here is that drawing the line between who is a private person and who is a public figure can be difficult and time-consuming. Defining what personal information is “irrelevant or no longer relevant” can be even harder to do.
What if a careless or incendiary comment somebody made in a discussion forum in 2009 created a major backlash and still pops up as a leading Google search result? What if there is a local newspaper item from 2006 about conviction for petty theft or solicitation for prostitution? What about an old photo about a drunken college escapade?
How are these individual cases itemized and categorized? Which ones can be legitimately deemed “no longer relevant” and which ones might be highly relevant for future employers, clients or fiancees?
After Friday’s instant flood of erasure requests, it is easy to see how Google could be facing a 100,000 pleas in coming months, or even 200,000. If each one has to be processed individually and even 10% to 20% of them require professional evaluation by lawyers or ethicists, this could turn into a massive project. It’s probably quite likely that many initially rejected requests will be resubmitted and lead to prolonged debate. Blanket approval of tens of thousands of requests could in turn generate widespread suspicion about the accuracy of Google search results. This looks like a real pickle.