A group of industry experts will accompany Internet search giant Google as it holds a series of seven meetings starting this week to debate and fine-tune the European Union's "right to be forgotten" law.
The first event, in Madrid on Tuesday, will kick off the series of meetings in European capitals as Google struggles with thousands of requests a month to remove from its search results a range of items including criminal records, embarrassing photos, instances of online bullying and negative press stories.
Attendees will be given the chance to voice their opinions to the panel, which will ask questions of the speakers. The three-hour public portion of the event will cover matters of law, technology and ethics.
Following the Madrid meeting, six more events will be held in European capital cities to try to define which of the thousands of monthly requests Google should censor.
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As of a month and a half ago, Google said it had received more than 90,000 requests and accepted more than half since an E.U. high court ruled it must remove results if the information was "inadequate, irrelevant or no longer relevant." Google holds more than 80 percent of Europe's search market,
Meanwhile, data protection regulators from European countries are working on guidelines for search engines to ensure that requests are handled consistently.
The event in Madrid will feature discussion of how Google should consider online freedom of speech and individual rights to privacy when it removes links from its search engine. The advisory council, assembled by Google, includes Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales, Google general counsel David Drummond and chairman Eric Schmidt, United Nations human rights official Frank La Rue, and Jose-Luis Pinar, who headed Spain's data protection regulation during the 2000s. Jimmy Wales, for one, has been critical of "right to be forgotten" laws.
Authorities in some European countries seem skeptical of Google's intentions regarding a right to be forgotten. "Google is trying to set the terms of the debate," said Isabelle Falque-Pierrotin, who leads a French privacy watchdog, the National Commission for Computing and Civil Liberties, in an interview with Reuters. "They want to be seen as being open and virtuous, but they handpicked the members of the council, will control who is in the audience, and what comes out of the meetings."
Google had asked Falque-Pierrotin to participate in the meetings, but she declined, saying a regulator with enforcement powers wouldn't have a proper place in such a meeting. She said some national regulators might send staff members to monitor the meetings, but Spanish regulators said they wouldn't be sending anyone to the Madrid meeting.
After Madrid, the council will meet in Rome on Wednesday, Paris on Sept. 25, Warsaw on Sept. 30, Berlin on Oct. 14, and London on Oct. 16, before concluding in Brussels on Nov. 4.
Google said it would stream the sessions online. The first one will take place Tuesday from 5:30-9 a.m. Eastern Daylight Time.