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Reputation VIP attended Google’s ‘Right to be forgotten’ tour

Reputation VIP had the pleasure of being one of the experts invited to give their opinion on the application of the Right to be forgotten. It was Bertrand Girin, President of Reputation VIP, who exchanged ideas with the Google Consultation Committee, on 25th of September, at the Forum des Images in Paris.

The Right to be forgotten brings up important and very complex questions, which touch on the very foundations of our society. Following the decision of the European Court of Justice, Google decided to put a Consultation Committee in place to help respond to these questions. The members selected by Google are as follows:

David DRUMMOND : Chief Legal Officer, Google
Eric SCHMIDT : Executive Chairman, Google
Jimmy WALES : Chairman of Wikimedia Foundation
Franck LA RUE : UN Special Rapporteur on the Promotion and Protection of the Right to Freedom of Opinion and Expression
José-Luis PINAR : Former Director, AEPD; Professor, Universidad CEU San Pablo
Lidia KOLUCKA-ZUK : Former Executive Director, CEE TRUST
Luciano FLORIDI : Professor of Philosophy and Ethics of Information, University of Oxford
Peggy VALCKE : Professor of Law, University of Leuven
Sabine LEUTHEUSSER-SCHNARRENBERGER : Former German Federal Justice Minister
Sylvie KAUFFMANN : Editorial Director, Le Monde

Unfortunately, Eric Schmidt and Jimmy Wales, present during previous meetings (Madrid and Rome) were not present in Paris.
The Consultation Committee meets to debate, but also invites experts, coming from their different areas, to give their opinions.
This meeting in Paris brought together the following experts:

Serge TISSERON : Director of Research, CRPMS, Paris Diderot University – Paris 7
Benoît LOUVET: LICRA
Emmanuel PARODY : Managing Director, CUP Interactive; General Secretary, GESTE
Bertrand GIRIN : President and co-founder, Reputation VIP
Marguerite ARNAUD : Lawyer, Lawways Avocats
Céline CASTETS-RENARD : Professor of Private Law, Toulouse 1 University Capitole
Bertrand de LA CHAPELLE : Director, Internet & Jurisdiction Project
Laurent CYTERMANN : Deputy Rapporteur General, Council of State

Here is the video and transcription of Bertrand Girin’s speech.

Part 1: Bertand Girin’s speech

Chairman – David Drummond :
Let’s move on to our 4th expert of the session and that’s Bertrand Girin. Bertrand is the co-founding president of Reputation VIP. It’s a company that enables brands and executives to manage their online reputations. It’s launched a website at https://forget.me. And it’s an online service to help Europeans enact their right to be forgotten. Bertrand has previously been a venture capitalist, as an engineer and teaches courses at Ecole Centrale and other places on innovation, e-reputation management and other things. So welcome and we look forward to your presentation.

Bertrand Girin :
Ladies and Gentlemen, good morning to you all.

I invite you, right now, to go onto the search engine Google, and type in “Google form for the right to be forgotten”. Please try it. You will not find it. Google has de-indexed it. (Ndlr: More info about Google Right to be forgotten not being indexed )Perhaps Google wants to forget this form for the right to be forgotten. Is this an oversight on their part? Let’s discuss.

I think we need to democratize the right to be forgotten. For that, search engines need to make their forms easily accessible to all, thus indexed. There can be no right to be forgotten for forms demanding the right to be forgotten.
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Do not misunderstand me, for I’m a fan of Google, and their ability to innovate. The teams of Reputation VIP are currently developing innovative products, and Google inspires us every day. They have exceptional talent: developing simple products, products which are adopted by all, by everyone around the world. Americans call their approach the KISS: Keep It Simple, Stupid.

Three months ago, we decided to launch Forget.me, which is a European service to manage requests for the right to be forgotten, with the famous KISS approach of Google. The purpose of Forget.me is to democratize the right to be forgotten, to make it simple, for and one and all. Thus, when you go on Forget.me, people can easily select the URLS, whether on Google or Bing, and access 31 various cases organized into 9 different categories. These situations, cover a wide range of problems that people encounter.

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For example: my home address has been made public, or my phone number; I was fired; convicted of a crime; not convicted of a crime; suffered public insults; someone has died… that’s a lot of cases that people encounter – for everyone else to see! The people who come to us can select their case/situation. We have asked lawyers to draft a legal justification for each of these types of case, because if you try to fill out a request on a search engine form, you must write a text justifying three criteria: the excessive nature of the case, its obsolescence and its inappropriate nature. Presenting legal justification on the basis of three criteria can be pretty difficult for the average Joe and Jane. Thus, we provide the cases and justifications so that people can easily exercise their rights. They press a button and their request is sent to Bing and Google.
Forget.me has given us an opportunity to be a valuable intermediary: to understand and receive the requests from people, and also the responses from the search engines.

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And so, as good engineers, we collated the statistics. I would like to share some of this data with you concerning our study of 15,000 URLs sent to Google. Here is the list of the statistical distribution of people’s requests into the various categories:

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The first category concerns, of course, the invasion of one’s privacy, corresponding to 50% of the URL requests. What is this “invasion of privacy”?

– My home address and my phone number are on the search engine, and I don’t want this information out there.
– I got divorced and my ex-husband has revealed my private life. I don’t want this information divulged on search engines.
– I was fired, you can read about it on a search engine, and I have a problem with this.

Such are some of the cases of the invasion of privacy, representing half of the 15,000 requests.

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The second category concerns defamation: 15% of the requests are for libel. I have been insulted and this is a problem. OR perhaps I insulted someone, and now I have a problem with the search engine.

Then come the other categories representing even smaller percentages of the requests: “damage to one’s image” representing 5% of the requests; “identity theft” representing 4%; “criminal proceedings”, another 4%;”undermining the presumption of innocence” at 2%; “disambiguation” of homonyms etc., another 1%; and “other”, representing 19% of the requests. In this ‘other’ category, one quarter of these requests concern social networks because many of their users do not know how to delete an account or use the settings to de-index it on the search engine.

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We also did a study of 1000 URLs sent to Bing, and the results were quite similar: the category concerning “violation of privacy” represented 66% of the requests.

Through this we see that in the case of Bing and Google, the majority of people’s requests are simple.
Google adapts its responses according to the types of requests it receives. It has certainly categorized the requests for the right to be forgotten to deal with them effectively, and it would be interesting if the Advisory Committee worked on responses category by category.

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And one would have to ask: “Which category should we start with?”
Imagine that you, Committee members, decide together to climb Mt. Everest. You’ll meet and you’ll probably decide that first you must do some jogging, then hike in small mountains, then a mountain of 4000m, and then 6000m, and, at the end of your preparation, you tackle Everest. If you start your mountain-climbing by attempting Everest, your expedition will certainly be a failure.

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Dealing with the right to be forgotten is the same. I suggest you start working first with the simple requests. Luckily, these represent the vast majority. For all of the complex requests, let them be dealt with through the CNIL, the legislator and civil society. And allow time for these parties to work on the writing of “guidelines”, as reflection and consultation on one’s rights takes time.

Dear Committee Members, you now face a choice – an interesting choice. Our European geography could represent the majority of the requests to be forgotten – easy to deal with, easy to walk, like the ease of the green fields of France, and the hills of Tuscany. And on behalf of the very ordinary requests to be forgotten – a baker seeking the removal of a photo, for example – I propose that you deal with them as one deals with our calm, European geography – easily. There is no need to impede the process of the right to be forgotten by seeking first to attain the summits of the Mont Blanc, much less the very difficult and complex cases of the Everest far away. Let such challenges be confronted with Data protection agencies, Legislators and Civil Society. Yet, with the vast majority of the requests to be forgotten, you can move easily, and move forward – for the good of the European people. Thank You.

Partie 2: Questions

Chairman – David Drummond :
Thank you very much Mister Girin, do we have questions from the panel? Luciano.
Luciano Floridi :
First of all I have a confession that I also have lot of comments which I will keep to myself. In terms of questions. It was not clear to me, but I’m a philosopher so help me out, it wasn’t clear to me what your position is about the difficult cases. Let me explain. We all love the easy cases, no matter how many they are, who doesn’t like Tuscany? The problem is, when you have to climb the Everest, and you have to. So the question is not, how much we are going to enjoy Tuscany, I am afraid that everybody agrees on that. The real difficult question that we are addressing here is: unfortunately out of thousands and thousands of easy cases we have a headache, we have a problem, we have a difficulty. How do we deal with that in particular? That’s why not so many people are looking for advice. I wouldn’t be looking advice if I were to go to Tuscany. I’m looking advice to climb the Everest. Do you have any advice on how we are going to climb the Everest?
Bertrand Girin :
I will reply in French. No, not really, no, because I think that for the good of everybody, of Europeans, is it is important to concentrate on simple problems. People have simple problems. And I think it is important to talk about it if they happen to be the majority of the requests. And I think that, with all due respect, it is not you who should be working on the difficult cases. I think that we must leave the legislator, the CNIL and civil society to work on these subjects, and that needs time, consensus.

Chairman – David Drummond:

All right let me just follow up on that briefly. Are you suggesting that under the court decision we’re not required to make the decisions on the hard cases? Because our understanding is that we are.
Bertrand Girin:
I try to be very pragmatic. I think it would be much simpler for Google to work on simple cases, on processes. They are already finding there are a lot of questions for the simple cases. I am going to ask you a few interesting questions: what are the means available for the simple cases? How are they dealt with? Would it be a good idea to standardize the handling process between the different search engines? Would it be a good idea if an applicant could talk to someone while submitting a request to a search engine? Today, that doesn’t happen. Is it needed? I don’t know, but it’s important, it’s a question of means. Today, someone who submits a request to Google does not get a second chance. If they submit a request to Google, they cannot submit a request for the same URL. Is that a problem or not? It concerns a lot of people. And it would also, I think, be very interesting to talk to the Google teams who deal with all these cases. Because they see the reality of the requests, they see people suffering too, and it’s interesting to talk to them about it.
Chairman – David Drummond:
José Luis
José-Luis Pinar :
Yes. Thank you very much for your very interesting presentation. You are helping Europeans to enact their right to be forgotten, in an easy way. Don’t you think that perhaps it’s easier to go first before the webmasters, the source of the information, better than before the search engine? Are you helping the people to enact their right to be forgotten also before the webmasters?
Bertrand Girin:

That is a very good question. And to reply to it I will have to explain a little bit how search engines work and what types of requests people submit. The search engine puts the information in order. There are barriers, which are pages. First page, second page. Information on the first page is very visible, information on the second page when you type your name and surname is less visible, etc etc. I think most people do not want the information completely erased, what bothers them is that it’s on the first page. Because it’s as if it’s written on their forehead, it’s very visible. It would also be, sorry I’m backtracking and it’s my engineer side emerging, please forgive me, I’m going back to statistics. It would be interesting to know the average position of URLs when people submit a request on their name and surname. Is it on the first page, the second page, or the twentieth page?

Chairman – David Drummond:
Frank, do you have a question? Frank go ahead.
Frank La Rue:
I understand your position on going to the simple procedures but I have a more difficult question. I’m trying to focus this from a Human Right perspective, and yes, simple procedures may be great but first if we agree, I mean, number one: I am assuming that many people believe that the right to be forgotten is an established right, there is a court decision. But coming from the Human Rights world I have not seen some sort of debate and consensus to establish this. I presented a report to the general assembly as a matter of fact [at the summit of Santiago (Chile)] last year on the Right to establish the truth, which is a little bit the opposite. It is how to document the truth of Humans Rights violations and how to keep records, and how the State has an obligation to keep records. Because for us it’s more important, not only on crimes against humanity but on all crimes and on all violations, the principle of non-repetition. So keeping record of things, making History possible, writing History seems a more important public necessity than allowing one person to change their mind if they want something to be known. We are not taking about the malicious criminal information, that clearly, but just talking about something that was put in their past or uploaded and that is true but they would like to have erased. So in the balance I’m not sure that the public interest should be sacrificed for the simple procedures for many people that just change their mind about things they did or happened in their past. Have you given any thought to this balance? Is this a right or not?
Bertrand Girin:
When we created our company two and a half years ago… We are engineers, we are five founders, and we said we are going to develop a technology, and the technology is not good or bad, it’s how you use it. And as an engineer we were not comfortable working on ethical cases, philosophical problems, and reflections on that. We thought that we didn’t have the experience and the background to understand that, and we decided to create an ethical committee, two years ago, to help us. So I will answer you by a non-answer. I don’t feel, as an engineer, very competent, it’s a very critical question, it’s a very important question, and I don’t feel with, hum… I am maybe humble, I’m trying, I don’t feel to have the background and the experience to answer your question on that.
Chairman – David Drummond:
Ok, Sabine.
Sabine Leutheusser-Schnarrenberger:
I hope I understand you right, that you are generally in favor of the right to be forgotten and to implement the right to be forgotten and you are criticizing the current practice of Google. Understand I right, that they should be more much engaged to be implement of this right or is that wrong?
Bertrand Girin:
I don’t like to criticize. I like to improve, I like to help people to improve. Yes, we are globally in favor of the right to be forgotten, because we can see the suffering of the people and how it can solve simple problems for them. And I think Google has put a lot of talent in what they have done, and it’s a very difficult process that they have done to treat so many demands in so little time. They have been very very reactive. We have been amazed. We are a start-up company. Google is a giant, but they are running like a start-up company. So we are very impressed and we would like, with our small contribution, to try to help, so the things are effective. We are pragmatic.
Chairman – David Drummond:
Sylvie.
Sylvie Kauffmann:
So if I’ve understood correctly, you’re saying there are simple cases and complicated cases. The simple cases obviously seem simple in the beginning and then turn out to be very complicated. In practice, how do you divide them up? Who does it? At what stage is it decided to go before the public authority rather than let the private operator handle it? How do you see it?
Bertrand Girin:
As a matter of fact, I think we could do extraordinary things with Google. Google has thousands of demands, many more than us, hundreds of thousands, as many as 475,000 URLs. It would be interesting to do some work on the statistics, which would take a long time and a lot of effort, to understand the nature of the requests, which might be different to the ones we receive, as we are only a small sample. That’s the first job, to categorize the requests and then think about each category and maybe start with the biggest categories. I’d take Pareto’s expression, 80/20: try to understand the simplest categories of requests and work on those.
Sylvie Kauffmann:
And you, you refer cases to CNIL or a judge when they are complicated? What do you do?
Bertrand Girin:
No, we are a technological transmission platform. So we receive people’s requests, and refer them to the search engine, that’s all. And we receive the search engine’s request and transfer them to individuals. We are a reception and transmission platform.

Chairman – David Drummond:
Ok, any other questions?
Ok well I think that concludes our first portion of the day. We are going to take about a half an hour break. Let’s try to reconvene as close to 2 o’clock as we can. Thank you very much and we’ll see you in a moment.

Translated by Buster Burk

Google ‘Right to be forgotten’ form

During his speech Bertrand Girin mentioned that Google Form couldn’t be found on Google Search. Indeed the webpage contains a “noindex” in its source preventing Google bots from indexing its content, and that’s the reason why it cannot be found on Google search. In order to find it one must pass via a third party website (for instance online articles). Here’s a screenshot done during the conference that shows the source of the Google form highlighting the “noindex”:

Google Form

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