Technology

Google faces data watchdogs over 'right to be forgotten'

  • 24 July 2014
  • From the section Technology
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Shadow falls over a banner saying "Google Deutschland"
The ruling only applies to search engines viewed from within the EU

Google has met data regulators from across the European Union to discuss the implications of the recent "right to be forgotten" ruling.

An EU court ruled in May that links to "irrelevant" and outdated data should be erased from searches on request, leading to censorship concerns.

The decision and Google's handling of the requests have been heavily debated.

The BBC understands that the search firm informed the watchdogs that it had now received more than 91,000 requests.

These in turn covered a total of 328,000 links that applicants wanted taken down.

The regulators were told that the greatest number of these came from France, followed by Germany, then Great Britain and Spain.

Across Europe as a whole, the search engine - which has been critical of the court's ruling - has:

  • Approved more than 50% of the requests
  • Asked for more information in about 15% of the cases
  • Rejected more than 30% of the applications

According to a report by Reuters, EU regulators were specifically concerned about the fact that Google had notified the owners of affected websites when it removed their links.

In one case this led the Wall Street Journal to write again about a Netherlands-based investor who had been linked to a sex workshop in 1998, after he had asked for the link to be removed from Google's results.

In another example, the BBC's economics editor Robert Peston brought attention to one of his blog posts that had disappeared from Google's search results.

Furthermore, a website has been set up to log examples of reported erasures.

Speaking to Bloomberg, the Irish data protection commissioner Billy Hawkes expressed concerns about this knock-on effect.

"The more they do so, it means the media organisation republishes the information and so much for the right to be forgotten," Mr Hawkes said.

"There is an issue there."

Reuters also reported that the watchdogs were concerned that the removed results could still be found on the international Google.com site even though they had been taken off local variants such as Google.co.uk.

Working party

The meeting in Brussels also included representatives from other search engines, including Yahoo, and Microsoft's Bing.

They met with a group known as the Article 29 Working Party, a gathering of data commissioners from across Europe concerned about the future direction of the "right to be forgotten" ruling.

Christopher Graham said he expected many complaints about the ruling

Ahead of the meeting, the Society of Editors - a group representing media organisations in the UK - wrote a letter to Prime Minister David Cameron urging him to resist the ruling.

The society warned that a "vital principle" over the free publishing, and archiving, of information was at stake.

But UK information commissioner Christopher Graham said that some of the concerns expressed by newspapers and broadcasters were overblown - and that there may have been some media manipulation on Google's part.

"Google is a massive commercial organisation making millions and millions out of processing people's personal information. They're going to have to do some tidying up," he told Speaking to Radio 5 Live's Wake Up To Money.

He added that the censorship debate should not hide the fact that people should be allowed to move on from some incidents in their past.

"All this talk about rewriting history and airbrushing embarrassing bits from your past - this is nonsense, that's not going to happen," he said.

"There will certainly be occasions when there ought to be less prominence given to things that are done and dusted, over and done with.

"The law would regard that as a spent conviction, but so far as Google is concerned there's no such thing as a spent conviction."

Follow Dave Lee on Twitter @DaveLeeBBC

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