Google is starting to accept requests from Europeans who want to erase unflattering information from the results produced by the world’s dominant search engine. The demands can be submitted on a Web page that Google opened late yesterday in response to a landmark ruling issued two weeks ago by Europe’s highest court.
The decision gives Europeans the means to polish their online reputations by petitioning Google and other search engines to remove potentially damaging links to newspaper articles and other websites with embarrassing information about their past activities. Google’s compliance thrusts the company into the prickly position of having to balance privacy concerns and “the right to be forgotten” against the principles of free expression and “the right to know.”
It will also create a divide between how Google generates search results about some people in Europe and the rest of the world. For now at least, Google will only scrub personal information spanning a 32-nation swath in Europe. That means Googling the same person in the United States and dozens of other countries could look much different than it does from Europe.
Although the court ruling only applied to 28 countries in the European Union, Google is extending the “right to be forgotten” to four other countries Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway and Switzerland. More than 500 million people live in the area affected by Google’s potential purge of personal information from its European search results.
It’s unclear when the whitewashing will begin. So far, Google has only said it will happen soon. First, though, the Mountain View, California Company is trying to establish some guidelines to steer its censorship decisions. To do that, Google is setting up a seven-person advisory committee to navigate through the ethical shoals. The group includes Google Executive Chairman Eric Schmidt and David Drummond, the company’s chief legal officer, as well as five outsiders.