The world's No. 1 Internet search company has yet to figure out how
to handle an expected flood of requests after Tuesday's ruling, said
the source, who is not authorized to speak on the record about the
The decision by the Court of Justice of the European Union, which
affects the region's 500 million citizens, requires that Internet
search services remove information deemed "inadequate, irrelevant or
no longer relevant." Failure to do so can result in fines.
"There's many open questions," Google Executive Chairman Eric
Schmidt said at the company's annual shareholder meeting on
Wednesday in response to a question about the ruling and its
implications on Google's operations.
"A simple way of understanding what happened here is that you have a
collision between a right to be forgotten and a right to know. From
Google's perspective that's a balance," Schmidt said. "Google
believes having looked at the decision, which is binding, that the
balance that was struck was wrong."
He was not asked about the recent take-down requests.
Google will need to build up an "army of removal experts" in each of
the 28 European Union countries, including those where Google does
not have operations, the source said. Whether those staffers merely
remove controversial links or actually judge the merits of
individual take-down requests are among the many questions Google
has yet to figure out, the source said.
Europeans can submit take-down requests directly to Internet
companies rather than to local authorities or publishers under the
ruling. If a search engine elects not to remove the link, a person
can seek redress from the courts.
The criteria for determining which take-down requests are legitimate
is not completely clear from the decision, said Jeffrey Rosen, a law
professor at the George Washington University and head of the
National Constitution Center.
The ruling seems to give search engines more leeway to dismiss
take-down requests for links to webpages about public figures, in
which the information is deemed to be of public interest. But search
engines may err on the side of caution and remove more links than
necessary to avoid liability, said Rosen, a long-time critic of such
laws. He was asked by Google to speak to reporters on Tuesday's
ruling, but has no formal relationship with the company.
Search engines will also have to authenticate requests, he noted, to
ensure that the person seeking a link's removal is actually the one
he or she claims to be.
Google is the dominant search engine in Europe, commanding about 93
percent of the market, according to StatCounter global statistics.
Microsoft Corp's Bing has 2.4 percent and Yahoo Inc has 1.7 percent.
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Google has some experience dealing with take-down requests in its
YouTube video website, which has a process to remove uploads that
infringe copyrights. Google has automated much of the process with a
ContentID system that automatically scans uploaded videos for
particular content that media companies have provided to YouTube.
Google may be able to create similar technology to address the EU
requirements, said BGC Partners analyst Colin Gillis.
Even if Google does not automate the process, the extra cost of
hiring staffers is likely to be insignificant to a company that
generated roughly $60 billion in revenue last year, Gillis said. If
Google were to pay staffers $15 an hour to process take-down
requests, for example, the company could get a million hours of work
for $15 million, he said. "It's the cost of doing business for
Google has said it is disappointed with the ruling, which it noted
differed dramatically from a non-binding opinion by the ECJ's court
adviser last year. That opinion said deleting information from
search results would interfere with freedom of expression.
Yahoo is "carefully reviewing" the decision to assess the impact for
its business and its users, a spokeswoman said in a statement.
"Since our founding almost 20 years ago, we've supported an open and
free internet; not one shaded by censorship."
Microsoft declined to comment.
(This story corrects number of citizens in third paragraph to 500
million from 500)
(Reporting by Alexei Oreskovic; Editing by Richard Chang)
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