European web users can now ask Google to remove sensitive personal information from its search engine results.
Thanks to a milestone ruling at the European Court of Justice in May, Google’s European users can request that the search engine de-indexes content that they believe is inaccurate, inadequate, irrelevant or excessive. Rivals Bing and Yahoo! have both announced that they plan to offer a similar service in the next few months to comply with the new legislation.
The move was strongly opposed by the team at Google HQ in Silicon Valley. It was publicly reported that the world-leading search provider believed that the ruling threatened freedom of speech and there were concerns that it wouldn’t be able to sufficiently manage the number of requests it was likely to receive. It’s easy to see why – it’s thought that over ten thousand users from across the whole of the EU are sending in URLs for removal every single day.
Google has made it clear that its team will manually assess each and every request, rather than rely on an algorithm. When deciding whether or not to keep or to de-index content, the company will take into consideration the ‘privacy rights of the individual’ but also bear in mind that the public has a right to ‘know and distribute information’. National data protection agencies will need to get involved in a case if there is a disagreement over whether or not the information should be removed.
How will this affect users?
From a user perspective, the ruling is only likely to affect a small percentage of search results, though Google will also be placing alert buttons at the bottom of search results to disclose that listings have been omitted from the page at someone’s request.
If you’re a business struggling to manage your online reputation, the service could potentially offer you a way of burying content that is leaving a bad impression on your customers and your peers.
If you want to request that information about you or your company is de-listed from the search listings, you’ll need to fill out a form online. Google will ask you for your contact details and a detailed list of the URLs that are causing the problem. You’ll need to support your request with an explanation as to why you believe the content is ‘irrelevant, outdated or otherwise inappropriate’.
Remember, though, if you’re successful, your unwanted content will not be removed from search queries made from non-EU versions of Google. Until a similar data protection bill is passed in America, those using Google.com will still be able to find content that’s been removed on Google.co.uk and any other European version of the search engine.
A similar version of this article was published in The Business supplement of the Essex Chronicle and Brentwood Gazette in June 2014, which is downloadable here.