Google's Schmidt says Europe's 'right to be forgotten' ruling got it wrong

Google's Schmidt says Europe's 'right to be forgotten' ruling got it wrong

Summary: Did Europe's highest court strike the wrong balance between the right to know and the right to be forgotten? Google's Eric Schmidt thinks so.

TOPICS: Google, Privacy

According to Google chairman Eric Schmidt, Europe's Court of Justice struck the wrong balance with a recent ruling that people can request that the company remove links to outdated material about them from its search results.

Fielding a question at Google's annual shareholder meeting on Wednesday, Schmidt outlined his thoughts on this week's European ruling that could see it forced to stop providing links to some information published on the web.

According to Schmidt, the case involved "a collision between the right to be forgotten and the right to know".

"From Google's perspective that's a balance… You have to find a balance. Google believes, having looked at the decision, which is binding, that the balance that was struck was wrong," said Schmidt, adding that there were many questions over the ruling. 

Google's chief legal counsel David Drummond said that the decision was "disappointing".

"We think it went too far. It didn't consider adequately the impact on free expression," Drummond said, adding that the company is still studying the implications of the ruling.

The European Court of Justice's decision is likely to complicate compliance with Europe's data protection directive for search engines since, according to the ruling, "lawful processing of accurate data may, in the course of time, become incompatible with the directive".

The ruling came as part of case involving a transaction to settle a Spanish man's social security debts. A search for his name produced links to two newspaper articles about the matter published in 1998. The court ruled that links to such information can become irrelevant over time, and since Google was the data controller of the search results, it can be subject to an order to remove links to the information under the European data protection directive — even when the information it links to is accurate and available on the web.

Experts are divided over whether the ruling will be difficult for companies such as Google to comply with.

Ovum analyst Luca Schiovani said the ruling may be "very disruptive" to search engines and ultimately shouldn't apply to them since they're only secondary data controllers.

"These provisions should only apply to the direct controllers of personal data — for example, a social network complying with the request to fully delete information related to an account. Involving search engines for something they are not directly responsible for is likely to entail a burdensome cost, especially if the amount of requests of erasure should escalate in the future," Schiovani said.

However, Victor Mayer-Schönberge, a professor of internet governance and regulation at Oxford University, told the Financial Times that the ruling would only result in Google having to remove a "few dozen" more links on top of the bulk removals it performs as a result of copyright removal requests.

Still, as the court noted, companies such as Google will no longer be able to brush aside requests by people to remove links to material about them that may now be considered irrelevant.

Read more on the case

Topics: Google, Privacy

Liam Tung

About Liam Tung

Liam Tung is an Australian business technology journalist living a few too many Swedish miles north of Stockholm for his liking. He gained a bachelors degree in economics and arts (cultural studies) at Sydney's Macquarie University, but hacked (without Norse or malicious code for that matter) his way into a career as an enterprise tech, security and telecommunications journalist with ZDNet Australia. These days Liam is a full time freelance technology journalist who writes for several publications.

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  • A License for tin-foil-pointy-hatters

    ... and Burson-Marstellr will be out there encouraging people (on Microsoft's behalf).

    If I was Google, I'd forward every single request to Bing, so both waste money equally.

    Alternatively, they could charge for the service - $20 a time?
  • Right to be forgotten???

    Since history repeats itself, and usually that is not a good thing. I feel that historical old news should be kept and not be allowed to be destroyed. If a company did something that they regret because of greed or slovenly practices then let it stand as a glaring light in the past to remind those in the future not to make the same choices.
    Then Again
  • why is it a search engine duty?

    So google seach (and soon bing and the others?) have to hide links to old newspaper articles, but those articles are still online? Why not ask the newspapers to remove those articles? My guess is people would cry about freedom of the press. Going after search engines is easier than going after the medias.
  • Insanity

    The court would at least have rendered an internally consistent verdict had they ordered the newspaper that published the original article to scrub it off its site, but they didn't. Probably because the quasi-Stalinist nature of the ruling would have been all too apparent then.

    The sad thing is that this ruling is probably mostly going to be used by politicians, sleazy scam artists and crooks who don't want people learning about their past activities.

    This judgment is an insult to any intelligent person, and should be opposed fiercely.
    • Yup

      According to the BBC some of the takedown requests so far include a politician seeking re-election wanting details of sexual harassment in the office removed, and a convicted paedophile wanting the details of his case removed.

      Way to go EU, you useless ****s.

      Surely there should be some public interest assessment of these requests?
      There probably will be in time, paid for by us........................
  • The best thing about the EU ruling.... that it got a "privacy" debate started. It may (hopefully) get people thinking more about their privacy--or lack of it--and that is a good thing.
  • Hey Google

    Give them what they want. Forget them, and block your services in their areas.
    • Considering

      Google has 93% of the search traffic in Europe, and the population of Europe massively outstripe the US where it has a 65% share, Google would be rather foolish to go down that route......
  • scroogle

    go scroogle yourself. You don't own everyone's data.