Europe Wants Google to Extend Its 'Right to be Forgotten' to U.S. Searches

Right Now If You Can't Find Something on Google.co.uk, You Just Use Google.com

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Google Chairman Eric Schmidt.
Google Chairman Eric Schmidt. Credit: Victor J. Blue/Bloomberg
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Google will have to change how it applies the right to be forgotten to its websites beyond the European Union under rules drafted by the E.U.'s privacy chiefs.

The guidelines also rebuke the owner of the world's most-used search engine for routinely notifying news outlets about story links it has removed -- a process that has thrown some people who'd sought extra privacy back into the media spotlight.

"All the extensions are included, including the .com," Isabelle Falque-Pierrotin, head of the EU group of 28 privacy watchdogs, told reporters in Brussels today. "There is no legal basis for routine transmissions from Google, or any other search engines, to editors," she said. "It may, in some cases be necessary, but not as a routine and not as an obligation, as Google said."

Google Chairman Eric Schmidt has argued that a ruling in May by the E.U.'s top court -- in which it ordered search links tied to individuals cut when those people contend the material is irrelevant or outdated -- didn't need to be extended to the U.S. site.

Google has removed 41.5%, or 208,520 links of a total of 502,977 links it has evaluated since the E.U. court ruling in May, according to the company. So far, it has received 174,226 requests for removal.

The right to be forgotten has been widely criticized in the U.S. and Britain, amid complaints that it inhibits free speech.

But data protection regulators' new rules, agreed on after a two-day meeting, will push the company to apply privacy requests from E.U. residents to its primary Google.com site in the U.S. Otherwise a failure to find something on a Google site in Europe might just send a searcher to the U.S. site.

"One of the natural consequences" for implementing the E.U. court ruling "is that people do use Google more flexibly," Paul Bernal, a lecturer in law at the University of East Anglia in England, said by phone. If "you can't find what you want in Google.co.uk, then you use Google.com."

The right-to-be-forgotten rules add to separate demands for curbs on Google's market power being considered by lawmakers this week. E.U. antitrust regulators should weigh breaking up search engines if efforts to resolve an antitrust case fail, according to members of the European Parliament who will vote tomorrow on a resolution to rein in the company.

The common position of the so-called Article 29 Working Party "is the position of all national" data protection authorities, said Ms. Falque-Pierrotin, who also leads France's privacy watchdog.

While the guidelines aren't legally binding, national regulators can use them to exert pressure on Google and take legal steps to make it comply, Ms. Falque-Pierrotin said. National regulators will use the guidelines to decide on a case-by-case basis on specific complaints they get from individuals who don't agree with a decision taken by a search engine.

Al Verney, a spokesman for Google in Brussels, didn't immediately respond to an e-mail seeking comment.

~ Bloomberg News ~