Google’s advisory committee recommended that Europe’s controversial “right to be forgotten” ruling should apply only to search websites in Europe and not to the rest of the search giant’s sites around the world.
The backing for a narrower interpretation of a European court’s ruling last year was part of a long-awaited report from the Advisory Committee to Google on the Right to be Forgotten. The committee consisted of eight people selected by Google, including Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales as well as member of Germany’s parliament who is a noted advocate for stronger privacy regulations.
The committee was co-chaired by Google’s chairman Eric Schmidt and its chief legal officer David Drummond. Starting last summer, the committee held a series of public meetings across Europe to gather information to advise Google how it should respond to the delisting ruling.
In May 2014, a European court upheld the right of people to have information that was no longer accurate or relevant removed from search results. Google and other Internet companies blasted the ruling as a blow against free speech and vowed to fight it.
Google has been weighing both how to comply with the ruling and how to build support for its appeal. Indeed, the committee’s report contains a number of practical suggestions for way Google can improve the process it created to let people request removal of information and the way the company discloses those requests.
But it is the recommendation for narrowing the geographical scope of the ruling that will likely cause the most friction for Google.
Late last year, Europe’s privacy commissioners told Google that they believed the court’s ruling applies to all of its search websites, not just those with European subdomains like Google.fr. Those regulators have threatened further legal action if Google does not implement the delisting process across all its sites.
But in the report today, the committee noted that Google’s data show that 95 percent of searches that originate in Europe direct users to results on its local, European-based sites. As such, the committee said removing the links from those sites only in Europe should be sufficient to comply.
“We believe that delistings applied to the European versions of search will, as a general rule, protect the rights of the data subject adequately in the current state of affairs and technology,” the committee said.
Of course, even if the committee did side with the EU on this issue, Google would not be bound by it. But the recommendation will likely be used to bolster its case for a narrower interpretation.
The real question now is whether the report can sway the minds of any EU regulators or courts going forward.