jimmywalesredacted

Google has enlisted the help of academics, members of the press, and civil liberties groups to help it honor the controversial “right to be forgotten” ruling issued by a European court earlier this year without keeping important information from the public or removing important news stories from its search results. The committee includes Wikipedia’s Jimmy Wales, Le Monde’s Sylvie Kauffman, human rights lawyer Frank la Rue, and two Google executives, among others.

David Drummond, the company’s chief legal officer and a member of the committee, said in a column written for the Guardian that Google must “balance one person’s right to privacy with another person’s right to know” as it works to support the ruling. “It’s a complex issue, with no easy answers,” he said. “So a robust debate is both welcome and necessary as, on this issue at least, no search engine has an instant or perfect answer.” (Bonus points for humor, David.)

This committee won’t be deciding which links should be removed from Google’s search results every day. Instead, it will be “asking for evidence and recommendations from different groups, and will hold public meetings this autumn across Europe to examine these issues more deeply” before publishing a report on the issue. Requests will still be processed by the unfortunate Google employees tasked with working their way through them.

The formation of this committee and its ability to influence Google’s policies is an interesting way for the company to mitigate concerns about its increasing influence over the way people find information. Pando has previously written about Google’s monopoly over the retrieval of information and how it, combined with the European government’s decision not to hear complaints from publishers, gives the company control over the world’s knowledge.

But it’s difficult to accept the committee at face value. Wales has spoken out against the “right to be forgotten” ruling in the past, Kauffman’s paper is vulnerable to Google’s implementation of the ruling, and both Drummond and Eric Schmidt, the other Google executive of the group, have an obligation to support Google and its well-established complaints about the ruling. It’s possible for the committee to set these concerns aside, but it doesn’t seem particularly likely.

I hope this committee will help Google figure out how best to comply with this ruling without screwing over publishers. The right to be forgotten has its perks despite the misinformation or deliberate misinterpretations surrounding it, and there must be a way to balance the public’s right to know something with an individual’s right to leave their past in the past. Solving that problem would be in everyone’s best interest — let’s hope that this committee will see that the same way instead of simply working to drum up support for Google’s problems with the ruling.

[original photo by Joi Ito]