Monday, April 15 2024

Google’s Advisory Council has met with experts in Rome to discuss “the
right to be forgotten”. Familyandmedia attended the meeting and
offers its readers a report.

Madrid, Rome, Paris, Warsaw, Berlin, London and Brussels. These are the
cities included in the European tour of Google’s Advisory Council, a
council that was recently established to tackle the sensitive issue of the
right to be forgotten. “We are here to listen”, began Eric Schmidt, CEO of
Google and moderator of the meeting that took place in Rome on September 10 th. Familyandmedia was there to report for its readers.

But let’s take a step back for a moment. Last year on May 13th
the European Court of Justice established, following a complaint filed by a
Spanish citizen, that search engines – and therefore all of Google, as 90%
of online searches in Europe are conducted through Google – are not merely
“neutral gatherers”, but responsible for how online personal data is

There is now the opportunity to request the removal of information
-regardless its original source- from a search engine if it is considered
to be in any way harmful to a person. This is the so called right to be forgotten. This is a new and delicate task that Google
& company is only facing in Europe, given that the issue was raised by
the European Union’s Court of Justice. At present other international
tribunals have not ruled on this issue.

In view of the sensitivity of the issue and the lack of legislation dealing
with the matter at hand, and in order to avoid falling into the darkness of
uncertainty, Google has decided to establish an Advisory Council, a
committee put in place to examine the situation. In addition to Google’s
CEO, Eric Schmidt, and his right-hand man on all legal issues, David
Drummond, the group also includes, among others, Jimmy Wales, the founder
of Wikipedia, Frank La Rue, special Envoy of the United Nations for the
Protection of the Right to Freedom of Opinion, and Sabine
Leutheusser-Schnarrenberger, former Federal Minister of Justice in Germany.
In addition the Council also includes internationally renowned journalists
and prominent university professors. The issue at hand is in no way easy
and brings with it many questions. We may summarize them in two
interrogations:Is it better to safeguard the person’s right to privacy or
that of the public’s right to information? Personal freedom come first, or
that of the expression of the Press? The question is not a simple one, as
it is dealing with two fundamental human rights that are apparently at odds
with each other. And then comes the more practical questions, concerning
who will make the decision to remove the indexing on a search engine
related to an event or a person. Would it be the search engine itself, a
judge, a special “authority”? And according to what criteria?

Google’s first step, in addition to establishing this special council in
order to soon find a definitive solution, was to allow European internet
users to request that certain links be removed from search engines. As a
result, in these first few weeks over 100,000 requests have been submitted,
a number that is expected to grow. Google has declined around half of these
requests, on grounds of public interest of news related to those people
claiming for removal.

But perhaps what is also worth pointing out, aside from the current debate
and all individual observations and expert opinions, is the way in which
Google has shown a policy of transparency and shared solutions. Google
faced the problem, it did not close itself off, nor hide in silence under
the pretense of being right, nor did it get lost in useless controversies
and accusations. Google did not make a fuss; it did not cry out for the
“sacred right” of freedom of expression. Instead, Google laid all the facts
on the table, in order to find a solution that everyone – those within and
outside of the company – can agree on.

In the debate held in Rome, the two different legal and cultural attitudes
that are characteristic of both sides of the Atlantic come to the surface.
: one more protective of the rights of the person by the State, more
paternalistic so to say, the European tradition; and the other more
liberal, more friendly of freedom of expression…and of trade. This has
been in further detail in an article on our site:

There is one final note to keep in mind. By the end of November, Article 29
Working Party (the organization that collects European Authorities for
Personal Data Protection) should be publishing the guidelines that National
Authorities will be called upon to follow when dealing with appeals on the
right to be forgotten.

Google’s move with this “European tour” was certainly smart and clearly
made with the future in mind. In this way, along with finding a shared
solution, keeping costs to a minimum, and avoiding as much contrast as
possible with the public, stakeholders, investors, customers, media and
society in general, Google has granted itself a formidable shield against
future attacks – from the courts and others – and is committed from the
beginning in a subdivision of responsibility, which at the same time
mitigates the guilt and renders small the demerits of the American
multinational company. It is also true, however, that the problem is not
just a Google proble, inasmuch as a range of political, cultural, social
and ethical issues are involved and a compromise must be reached between
all the agents involved (government, companies, politicians and citizens).

The path ahead is certainly still a long and complicated one. However,
everyone is devoted to finding a balanced solution in order to prevent the
internet from becoming a digital Wild West.


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