Tuesday, 3 June 2014

Google Rolls Out New 'Forget Me' Service

In response to the recent landmark European Union Court ruling establishing the 'right to be forgotten' amongst Internet users, Google has rolled out a new service intended to fulfil its legal obligations to the court.  The new service ostensibly protects privacy rights by giving Google users the option to have certain kinds of outdated personal data removed from Google's Internet servers.

The court said in its decision that links to outdated and irrelevant data should be immediately deleted by Google upon request of the user.  The Internet giant's new service promises to do that, but there are a number of sceptics wondering just how effective it will be.

In order for someone to exercise his or her right to be forgotten, he or she must:

  • provide links to the data in question
  • name his or her home country
  • explain why the links should be removed
  • provide a photo ID to prevent fraud

Google says the requirements have been put in place for two reasons.  First, it needs to make sure that the 'forget me' service is used legally in each country where links to data exist.  For example, the EU court ruling likely would not hold up in the United States against that country’s First Amendment protections to free speech.  It is not likely that Google will delete any information stored on servers physically situated in a US data centre.

Secondly, Google needs to protect itself against fraudulent requests that could lead to further legal complications.  The system is set up in such a way as to force human operators to review requests and delete data.  Those same human operators will have to determine whether the links submitted applied to outdated and irrelevant information or not.  For now, the system would not be a good candidate for automation.  Google employees will review all requests and subsequent communications in order to determine their legitimacy.

Potential Unintended Consequences

Those who are sceptical of the court ruling and Google's new service say the whole idea could have some unintended consequences in the future.  For example, the BBC has already revealed that more than half of the 'forget me' requests Google has thus far received from UK residents have come from convicted criminals.  Some of these individuals are requesting records of their criminal convictions to be deleted.  The possibilities attached to those kinds of requests could be disastrous.

Another potential problem is that Google may very well delete requested links only from local or regional searches, while keeping them intact internally.  The net result is that individuals will not truly be forgotten; they will merely be concealed from public view in their home country however, that does not stop hackers from working around the system and getting the information they want.

This is truly new territory for search engines, data centres, hosting companies and anyone else who deals with the personal data of customers online however, if this plays out, it will likely set the stage for future rulings on Internet privacy and security.

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