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Google Seeks Help Defining ‘Right to Be Forgotten’

Google Executive Chairman Eric Schmidt, center, joins panelists hearing privacy and public information concerns in Madrid Sept. 9, 2014.

Google’s chairman has asked a panel of experts to help the search-engine company better define and implement the "right to be forgotten" court ruling, under which Europeans can request the removal of irrelevant or embarrassing Internet records.

Speaking Tuesday at Casa de America in Madrid, Eric Schmidt stressed the need for balancing the right to information and the right to privacy, after the advisory council heard testimony from Spanish privacy and right-to-know experts.

In May, the European Union’s Court of Justice decided that an individual’s right to privacy supersedes society’s right to know. The ruling enables Europeans to ask Internet "data controllers" to delete data that could "appear to be inadequate, irrelevant or no longer relevant or excessive … in the light of the time that had elapsed."

Such information includes, but is not limited to, everything from serious criminal records and embarrassing photos to online bullying, and negative press stories, mainly about politicians.

The company so far has received more than 120,000 requests to deactivate 457,000 links, a Google spokesman said Tuesday. Reuters reported he did not disclose how many requests had been approved or denied. The news agency said Google has 80 percent of Europe’s Internet search market.

The court had said information about prominent people could be subjected to a public-interest test.

Concern over decision making

But free-speech advocates have expressed dismay at giving data controllers such as search-engine firms Google, Yahoo and Microsoft the authority to determine what personal information could be accessed and what might be blocked from the historical record.

"Where do we put the limit? And should Google decide it?" Milagros del Corral, a UNESCO director, asked the panel.

Tuesday’s meeting was the first of seven scheduled for several European capitals through early November.

The advisory council plans to meet next in Rome on Wednesday. Subsequent sessions are set for Paris and Warsaw on September 25 and 30, Berlin and London on October 14 and 16, and Brussels on November 4.

The panel expects to report its findings to Google early next year.

Reuters said European data protection authorities also plan to meet next week to discuss draft guidelines for regulators in the EU’s 28 member nations. The two-day gathering, beginning Tuesday, aims to ensure uniform handling of appeals by citizens whose privacy requests are rejected.

Some information for this report was provided by Reuters.