Google has already received around 41,000 requests to delete links to personal information from its search results in the three weeks since a key ruling by the European Court of Justice about the so-called right to be forgotten.
On May 13 the court ordered Google to remove links to a Spanish newspaper notice about a mortgage foreclosure against Costeja González, a 58-year-old lawyer, because it infringed his right to privacy. The paper itself was not ordered to remove the information, but González successfully argued that the links displayed by Google to this information about him had become inadequate and irrelevant over time.
In response to the ruling, Google put a form on its website to make it easier for it to process requests to delete links. The search giant, which processes more than 90 percent of all web searches in Europe, described the form as "an initial effort" to comply with the ruling.
Within 24 hours of putting the form online, Google had reportedly received 12,000 deletion requests -- and by Monday, that figure had risen to 41,000, according to a source at the company.
The European Union's highest data protection official sees Google's reaction as a good sign.
"Google is organizing itself, which is welcome, because the ruling means that the search engine needs to anticipate what the reasonable expectation of a consumer might be," Peter Hustinx, the European Data Protection Supervisor (EDPS), said in an interview Monday.
There is no absolute right to have information deleted, and Google will have to weigh a number of criteria in responding to the requests to delete links, including relevance of the information, and the time passed since the facts related.
That means Google will have to take a more active approach to managing the personal information in the search results it returns, according to Hustinx.
"Google needs to work out what a reasonable consumer might find out-dated. This is not straightforward and if they do not anticipate, then they will have too many requests," he said
Not everyone is happy with Google's online form for processing deletion requests, which requires applicants to provide proof of their identity including name, address and photo ID. Google said this was to avoid imposters making fraudulent removal requests, but Hamburg Data Protection Commissioner Johannes Caspar said the requirement may itself be in breach of data privacy regulations.
While the May 13 ruling has changed Google's processes, it did not change the law, Hustinx said.
"The European Court of Justice is simply applying existing remedies in the context of a search engine. It is not changing any signposts. It is not as revolutionary as some people have made it out to be. Reaction that 'this is the end of the Internet' is just nonsense," he said.
Hustinx and data protection chiefs from the EU's 28 member states were meeting this week in Brussels to discuss the ruling.
"There is a difficult balance to be struck on a case-by-case basis and we will be discussing what this means for national regulators. Obviously there will be questions about coordination. But the ruling does not mean re-writing history or systematic censorship," he said.