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Google begins removing data after 'right to be forgotten' case

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Marcio Jose Sanchez/AP/File

(Read caption) A man walks past a Google sign at the company's headquarters in Mountain View, Calif.

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Anonymity and the Internet don’t typically go hand in hand. But Google is beginning to bring those two terms a bit closer together.

After the highest court in the European Union upheld the so-called “right to be forgotten” in May, Google announced Thursday that it would begin deleting search results in response to individuals’ desire to have certain information about them deleted from the Internet.

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“This week we’re starting to take action on removals requests that we’ve received,” a Google spokesman said on Thursday, according to Reuters. “This is a new process for us. Each request has to be assessed individually and we’re working as quickly as possible to get through the queue.”

The search giant has reportedly received more than 41,000 requests in the wake of the ruling after putting up an online form allowing people to ask to be removed, though it remains unclear how many requests Google has decided to process. The ruling says that Google will have to assess whether the individual’s right to privacy outweighs the public’s right to know when deciding whether to delete someone’s information.

The ruling, however, applies only to people in the European Union. This means a user’s data that might have been removed in Europe could still be available in other countries, such as the United States.

One of the original complaints came from 2010 and focused on a Spanish citizen who requested that information about his unpaid house payments from 1998 be deleted from Google’s search results as he felt that information was “no longer relevant.” 

According to a FAQ on Google’s site, when users wish to have information about themselves removed, they can fill out an online form. Then, Google will determine if you fulfill the criteria to be removed, taking into account whether the data on you includes “outdated information about your private life” and whether the information relates to things such as financial scams or professional malpractice. Google further admits its limitations in making these decisions as a private entity, noting that “these are difficult judgements and as a private organization, we may not be in a good position to decide on your case.” 

For searches of key names originating in European countries, Google is adding a statement at the bottom of search pages that reads, "some results may have been removed under data protection law in Europe." 

While this could be seen as a boon for privacy advocates, free-speech advocates worry this practice could trigger censorship issues. 

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Yahoo and Microsoft are also reportedly implementing the European court's decision for their search engines, according to The Wall Street Journal.