Business

European Union to Google: Start ‘forgetting’ better

Image Credit: Shutterstock/Ollyy

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.

Via Business Insider/Reuters

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9 comments
Del Williams
Del Williams

The problem the EU seems to be overlooking is that the stuff is true. It's not like there are lies and the person can't get rid of it. Also, the main people trying to be forgotten are those with criminal records. I feel for Google, because they can't win because the people requesting to be forgotten are too stupid to realize that there is always a trail, and anyone can find anything if they look hard enough. It gives them a false sense of privacy, and sorry, infringing on other people's right to report on public information, is a little misguided. The Courts are going to go with the tried and true laws of centuries ago, because they are under the illusion that the world hasn't changed.

Thomas Chenhall
Thomas Chenhall

For humanitarian reasons, it is best that Google remove people who have a high likelihood of receiving a visit from a murdera.

Thomas Chenhall
Thomas Chenhall

It's the least they could do to give back to the people, they owe us a search engine. The NSA Search Engine would have to be a separate contract. It would get more hits than Google, for sure. Search through NSA wiretaps, or ask the kind of question a pollster would ask and get an accurate demographic percent. How fun that would be!

Mark Castellani
Mark Castellani

And that's why I am currently on the wrong continent

Glenn Darwis
Glenn Darwis

Politicians are the bane of humanity. The idiot class mixed with short-sightedness and stupidity.

Michel Beaussart
Michel Beaussart

What about the right to know? The relevancy in time might be questionable, the fact remains that, for instance, Mario Costeja was indeed bankrupted, and possible investors, partners..etc have the right to know. But it is fashionable these days to throw the 'privacy' card on the table than being responsible for your own actions. Unless the facts stated on a search engine are wrongfully displayed to constitute a defamation of character, the right of a search engine to display facts should remain whole. European courts really love to dent freedom of speech whatever form that can be usually to the benefit of douche bags that have more to hide than the rest of us.

Wendy Sue Buckleman
Wendy Sue Buckleman

I was wondering how they were going to get over the extraordinarily difficult question of how. They blindsided it with a great big should we.