SAN FRANCISCO -- Google is accepting requests from Europeans who want to erase unflattering information from the results produced by the world's dominant search engine.
The demands can be submitted on a Web page Google opened late Thursday in response to a landmark ruling issued two weeks ago by Europe's highest court.
More than 12,000 requests to remove personal data were submitted within the first 24 hours after Google posted the forms, according to the company. At one point Friday, Google was getting 20 requests per minute.
Under the recent court decision, Europeans can now polish their online reputations by petitioning Google and other search engines to remove potentially damaging links to newspaper articles and other websites with embarrassing information about their past activities.
Google now finds itself in the prickly position of having to balance privacy concerns and "the right to be forgotten" against the principles of free expression and "the right to know."
It will also create a divide between how Google generates search results about some people in Europe and the rest of the world. For now at least, Google will only scrub personal information spanning a 32-nation swath in Europe. That means Googling the same person in the United States and dozens of other countries could look much different than it does from Europe.
Although the court ruling applied only to 28 nations in the European Union, Google is extending the "right to be forgotten" to four others -- Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway and Switzerland. More than 500 million people live in the area affected by Google's potential purge of personal information.
It's unclear when the whitewashing will begin. So far, Google has only said it will happen soon. First, though, the Mountain View, Calif., company is trying to establish some guidelines to steer its censorship decisions.
Imposing more limitations on what kind of personal information Google and other search engines can show in Europe has raised fears about the censorship. For instance, politicians might be able to block damaging information from showing up in search results. Other critics of the ruling have warned that even pedophiles might be able to delete past convictions from their results.
Supporters of the European court ruling, though, argue that people should be able to remove some information about youthful indiscretions, financial missteps and arrests that never resulted in convictions.
Google says that whenever it scrubs personal data from its European search results, it will include a notice about some links being omitted, just as it has previously done when laws in countries such as China have required the company to censor data.