Right to be forgotten should apply to Google.com too: EU

And hey - no need to tell the website you've de-listed. That'll make it easier ...

Europe’s data protection watchdogs say there’s no need for Google to notify webmasters when it de-lists a page under the so-called "right to be forgotten" ruling.

The Article 29 Working Group (A29), which is made up of the EU’s national data protection authorities, has also agreed that such de-listing requests should apply to Google.com and not only to local European domains.

By the end of this week, A29 will publish a set of guidelines for the search giant to follow in handling de-listing requests from the public.

A May ruling by the European Court of Justice ordered Google to remove links from its search results that connected the user to outdated or irrelevant information. The ruling has generated huge interest from users asking for information to be effectively de-linked (nearly 175,000 requests at last count, according to Google).

“Huge social expectations have been created by this ruling,” said A29 head, Isabelle Falque-Pierrotin. “We believe Google, like other search engines, has been surprised by the ruling because they have new obligations to follow now. But the rules are not new; the obligations have applied to websites since 1995. The difference is that it now applies to search engines.”

The group has drawn up a 13-point list that tries to balance the rights of an individual to privacy with free speech rights.

“We believe these guidelines are pragmatic,” said Falque-Pierrotin. But she said the guidelines would evolve over time as national data protection authorities (DPAs) deal with complaints on a case by case basis.

The A29 group met with Google, Bing, Quant and Yahoo! in drawing up its guidelines, which are non-binding, but will be referred to by national DPAs as they assess cases brought to them by the public.

For example, Ireland’s DPA is currently investigating complaints from 18 individuals who were told by Google that they would not be afforded the “right to be forgotten”.

Publishers and civil liberties groups have also argued that removing links to legal, accurate information is harming freedom of speech. Notably, media organisations have had links to their stories blocked, sometimes in connection with an appended comment, rather than the original article itself. If the A29’s new guidelines are followed, the publishers of such articles will not be informed when this happens (as is the current Chocolate factory practice).

“Our remit does not include dealing with complaints from organisations which have had search results to their websites removed from a search engine,” an Irish DPA spokeswoman told El Reg last month.

Falque-Pierrotin says that the “common criteria framework” is essential so that Europeans’ rights will be applied in the same way across the EU. However, to date, Google has resisted calls for the Google.com domain to be included when results associated with an individual’s name are delisted.

The A29’s guidelines are not legally binding, but national DPAs can impose fines if they find data rules have been breached. ®

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