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Google seeks privacy debate in Europe on right to be forgotten

Google Inc. is seeking a European Union-wide debate on the aftermath of a ruling that gave citizens the right to be forgotten online, as it admitted to mistakes in withdrawing links to news articles last week.

The world’s biggest search-engine provider wants Internet users to share thoughts on the EU decision, using an online form and public hearings across the continent later this year, the company said in a blog post Friday.

A panel including Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales and former German justice minister Sabine Leutheusser-Schnarrenberger will draft a report for Google (Nasdaq: GOOG) on how it should comply with the judgment from the EU’s top court.

“Its public report will include recommendations for particularly difficult removal requests like criminal convictions,” Google’s top lawyer David Drummond said in the blog post, previously published as an opinion piece in the Guardian newspaper.

It will also cover the implications of the ruling on news publishers and search engines, as well as “procedural steps that could improve accountability and transparency for websites and citizens.”

Google “incorrectly removed links to some articles last week” that have since been reinstated, Drummond said. The Daily Telegraph and Guardian said links to articles had been restored, including stories from 2010 on a Scottish football referee who had lied about his reasons for awarding a penalty kick.

Google is grappling with “vague and subjective tests” set by the EU court for when it must accede to requests by people who want outdated or irrelevant information about them removed from search results on their names, Drummond said. The ruling doesn’t allow for a “journalistic exception,” which means Google may have to delete perfectly legal news articles from search results, he said.

“It’s for these reasons that we disagree with the ruling,” Drummond said. “The issues here at stake are important and difficult” and “a robust debate is both welcome and necessary.”

Google has a “huge team of people individually reviewing each application” with limited information and no context from people who want information removed, Drummond said.

The company is trying to be transparent and is telling websites when a link to its page is removed from search results. The company can’t be specific about why it’s withdrawn the information because it may violate a person’s privacy rights.

The company has received 70,000 take-down requests covering 250,000 Web pages since May, Drummond said.

The U.K. Information Commissioner’s Office declined to comment on the Google announcement.

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