Google’s ‘right to be forgotten’ tool is simple and effective

In response to the recent ruling by the Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU), Google has launched an online form whereby individuals can request that specific internet URLs no longer be linked to a query for their name in Google’s search results.

The CJEU judgment raised some extraordinarily complex questions regarding the rights to privacy and freedom of expression, and the implications of the decision will no doubt be the subject of much debate in the coming months and years. In the meantime, however, Google’s new tool demonstrates the first practical step by the search engines to address the issues posed by the judgment.

The basics of the tool

Google’s prompt release of this tool is evidence of just how seriously it is taking the CJEU’s judgment. The short online form, which can be completed in a matter of minutes, allows individuals to list as many URLs as they would like to be ‘de-coupled’ from their name.

It also provides an opportunity for the requestor to explain why the link should be removed – to assist Google in conducting the difficult balancing exercise between the individual’s right to privacy and the wider public interest in that information being accessible to internet users.  

This also serves as reminder that the CJEU ruling does not establish a general ‘right to be forgotten’ in all circumstances; Google is only obligated to delete the information if it is irrelevant, out of date, or otherwise incompatible with the protections offered under EU data protection law.

The requirement for ID

Google has decided to request a copy of a valid form of photo ID from individuals submitting a request – which is important to protect against someone else submitting a malicious or prank request for your information to be deleted.

Europe-wide application

Something which will no doubt please potential requestors is that it looks as if Google has chosen to make the removal effective across its search engines for the entire EU. An individual in the UK will not only come out of search results in google.co.uk, but also google.es, google.de and google.fr – despite the fact that their rights under the UK Data Protection Act do not extend beyond the territory of the UK.

Clearly, Google has to apply some territorial limits to the removal (it would be absurd for the application of EU data protection law to extend to, for example, an article by a US journalist on a US website, visible in Google’s US search results), but by deciding not to limit the tool to a country-by-country basis, Google offers a simple and effective means for individuals to protect their privacy across the whole of Europe.

Mark Watts is a partner at Bristows, which acted for Google on this case