Bloomberg News

Germany Mulls Arbitration for Web ‘Right to Be Forgotten’

May 27, 2014

The German government is considering setting up arbitration courts to weigh in on what information people can force Google Inc. (GOOG:US) and other search-engine providers to remove from results.

Following a European Union court decision this month granting consumers the “right to be forgotten,” the Interior Ministry in Berlin would seek to establish “dispute-settlement mechanisms” for consumers who file so-called take-down requests. If search providers introduce automatic deletion, public information would be at risk, the ministry said.

“Politicians, prominent figures and other persons who are reported about in public would be able to hide or even delete reports they find unpleasant,” it said in a statement. The ministry suggested that the removal of information shouldn’t be left to company algorithms.

The EU Court of Justice ruling on May 13 gave people the right to request the deletion of personal information, creating the possibility of European users flooding Internet companies with take-down requests, with a cost in time and money to comply.

Companies such as Google will have to review such requests on a case-by-case basis, the court said. Search-engine companies must take an initial decision on each request and people could then turn to courts or a data-protection authority to challenge the decision, the EU court ruling said.

Balancing Interests

Google, which has received several thousand demands to remove entries from search results since the court verdict, doesn’t plan to automate the handling of take-down requests and will present its approach in coming weeks, Klaas Flechsig, a Hamburg-based spokesman for the company, said by phone.

Decisions on whether to remove links will have to balance issues, including how sensitive the information is and the public interest in it, EU data regulators, known as the Article 29 Data Protection Working Party, said this month.

The German ministry doesn’t currently plan to create a single mediating authority or to put mediators under state supervision, it said. Talks with Google and other providers will begin once the government has finalized its position.

To contact the reporters on this story: Patrick Donahue in Berlin at pdonahue1@bloomberg.net; Cornelius Rahn in Berlin at crahn2@bloomberg.net

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Kenneth Wong at kwong11@bloomberg.net; Alan Crawford at acrawford6@bloomberg.net Robert Valpuesta, Peter Chapman


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