European regulators don’t like how Google is forgetting.
Authorities from the European Union’s privacy regulators are in the process of meeting with representatives of major search engines — including Yahoo and Microsoft as well as Google — about complying with the so-called “right to be forgotten.” That compliance requires search engines to honor requests from Europeans who want links to certain content removed from results when their name is searched.
The regulators are concerned in particular about how Google is going about removing links to stories, according to Reuters news service, which cited “a person familiar with the matter.” Google, as the dominant search engine, has had the most requests, and has been most visible in relation to two issues that appear to have rankled the regulators:
–Google is only removing results from its search engines with European domains, like google.co.uk. Users could still find the links by going to google.com.
–The tech giant is notifying website owners when content is being de-linked, just as it does when there are removals because of copyright infringements. However, this has meant that the de-linking of news stories is bringing more attention to the de-linked story rather than less, as it did when Google removed a BBC column about the downfall of former Merrill Lynch chief executive Stan O’Neal. That sparked another column by the same BBC writer, as well as other stories about that and additional removals. There’s also a website dedicated to links Google has removed.
“At the very least, European data protection regulators should be providing search engines with clear and specific guidance about how they should respond to these requests, and how they can minimize the adverse impact on free expression,” Emma J. Llansó told VentureBeat. She’s Director of the Project on Free Expression at the Center for Democracy & Technology.
Given that the Court of Justice of the European Union was “very vague in describing how search engines are supposed to do the careful weighing of privacy and free expression interests,” Google needs some latitude, she said.
“In particular, it’s critical that search engines be permitted to inform authors when the search engine has been compelled to remove links to the author’s work from search results,” Llansó told us.
“This sort of transparency is essential to preventing abuses of the system, as it enables authors and speakers to appeal decisions and to know when their speech is being limited in circulation at someone else’s demand. Search engines should also be permitted to signal to their users when search results have been edited at an individual’s request.”
The EU’s new right-to-be-forgotten rule is the result of objections filed in 2009 by Spanish lawyer Mario Costeja. Costeja objected to Google searches that led to outdated bankruptcy notices about him. The Court subsequently ruled that links relating to any requesting user need to be erased if they are “inadequate, irrelevant or no longer relevant,” unless there are reasons against such a move.
The information is not actually removed, just the link for a given user’s name. The information may still be searched and found through other search terms.
So, essentially, it’s not a “right to be forgotten” but a “right to avoid being searched.” The Court also said that the “sensitivity for the data subject’s private life” has to be greater than “the interest of the public in having that information” — but it did not indicate how search engines are supposed to make that judgment.