European regulators have taken issue with the way Google is
implementing the European Court of Justice’s “right to be
forgotten” ruling, it has emerged after data protection authorities
met with Google executives yesterday.
The May ruling determined that anyone was allowed to request the
removal of links from search results if it was no longer relevant.
Google quickly set up a system for people to submit requests and
has approved more than half of the 90,000 or so that have already
landed in its hands.
Reuters reports that someone who sat in on the
meeting, which took place in Brussels yesterday, described how
regulators questioned Google over the decisions it has made so far
about its practices for removing links. In particular the company
has come under fire because it has restricted the removal of links
to the European version of its search engine, such as google.co.uk,
even though it is easy for anyone to switch over to using
google.com. To an extent this undermines the ruling and renders it
pretty pointless, with the removal of links from European search a
mere token gesture.
Another issue regulators have raised is over Google’s decision
to notify site owners when their links have been removed from
search results — something Google insists is vital to maintaining
transparency. This has been part of its policy since before the
ruling, when it was already removing results due to copyright
infringements, for example.
On several occasions when Google has removed links published by
well-known journalists or media outlets, including the BBC
and the Guardian, the publications in question have
obviously written about the links being removed when they were
informed. This has resulted in much speculation about who requested
the removal of links, and ironically has ended up with the articles
receiving far more attention than they otherwise would have
The final problem that data protection authorities are trying to
deal with is the development of a system for dealing with
complaints from European citizens when a search engine has refused
to remove a link. According to Reuters, the Information
Commissioners Office — the UK privacy watchdog — had received 23
complaints by Tuesday 22 July.
Regulators have requested more information from Google and other
search companies including Yahoo and Microsoft in order that it can
draw up its own set of guidelines about how to deal with
complaints, which it believes will be available in September.
Google declined to comment on what took place in the meeting,
but the company itself recently set up an Advisory Council of experts to oversee how it deals with
requests, given that the ruling was extremely broad and that the
court did not advise on how it should be implemented.