Google faces data watchdogs over 'right to be forgotten'

Shadow falls over a banner saying "Google Deutschland" The ruling only applies to search engines viewed from within the EU

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An EU court ruled in May that links to "irrelevant" and outdated data should be erased from searches on request, leading to censorship concerns.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

Start Quote

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

End Quote Christopher Graham UK information commissioner

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.

Technology reporter Dave Lee explains how the controversial system will work

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 site even though they had been taken off local variants such as

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 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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  • rate this

    Comment number 417.

    I read that the EU want google to explain to them why they have only removed the links from the EU servers...this is laughable.

    The reason for this is easy, the EU don't, and must not be able to tell any search engine what they can and cant keep on their servers outside the EU.

    They shouldn't even be able to enforce this law anyway within the EU.

    This is pure and utter contempt by the EU.

  • rate this

    Comment number 416.

    414.Paul Yes, it would be available in the Court's public records, but they don't wheel those out into the street and invite people to have a rummage every day for ever more. Re Kercher the indexed verdicts show the oddity of the verdict(s). Whereas an indexing to a conviction that's been overturned, which a reader would not learn about from google, is unfair.

  • Comment number 415.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • rate this

    Comment number 414.

    412. Peter N
    411. NicM99

    - Even if a conviction has been overturned (or quashed) a report on the original conviction is still factually correct and would be available in the courts public records any way.

    So fail to see the issue of Google indexing it.

    The Meredith Kercher case was ruled - Guilty, Quashed, then Guilty again.

  • rate this

    Comment number 413.

    412.Peter N
    Yes, sorry. Courts rule the original conviction as having never happened. Yes a trial took place - and worthy of reporting - but once that conviction has been overturned by the Appeal Court, there is no longer a conviction *to* uphold or keep linking to on the internet. That's what I meant.

  • rate this

    Comment number 412.

    411. NicM99 - "@401.Peter N - If a conviction has been overturned, then the original newspaper report on the internet is obsolete. Why keep linking to something that is legally regarded as having not happened, which is what "quashed" means."

    Yes, post 403 has been there for 90 minutes.

  • rate this

    Comment number 411.

    401.Peter N

    If a conviction has been overturned, then the original newspaper report on the internet is obsolete. Why keep linking to something that is legally regarded as having not happened, which is what "quashed" means.

    There is every reason to have an overturned conviction expunged. Newspapers rarely report on convictions being overturned anyway.

  • rate this

    Comment number 410.

    315. arltunstall &
    287. Solutionist
    52. Luke

    - Have to agree.

    The same data is available on 100's of other search engines, just goes to show what a bunch of muppets the EU are.

    20.EricTViking - Learn a bit more about the subject before making stupid comments.

  • rate this

    Comment number 409.

    But the EU, in a display of unbridled arrogance, is now asserting that it can do just that and that its inane privacy ruling must apply to the entire world.
    It doesn't apply to the whole world. Stop making up stuff to rant about.

  • rate this

    Comment number 408.

    We don't let ANY entity (think Iran or N. Korea) make rules for the world about what content can or cannot be indexed by a search engine. But the EU, in a display of unbridled arrogance, is now asserting that it can do just that and that its inane privacy ruling must apply to the entire world.

  • rate this

    Comment number 407.

    In the book 1984 there was a large team of people employed to re-write history. The EU lawmakers have told Google to perform a similar function, if no re-write history then selectively remove parts of it.
    We're not leaving 1984 behind, we're getting closer to it.

  • rate this

    Comment number 406.

    If anyone in the EU wants to see any of the deleted searches, simply use, rather than or, etc.

    A singularly pointless ruling by a singularly pointless court whilst the Americans have freedom of speech.

  • rate this

    Comment number 405.

    That some people are convicted of crimes and later such convictions are over turned is not good reason to remove links to the original conviction. In fact it's a bad idea, as it'd force everyone to get the original conviction unlinked - think about it. Also, that some convictions get over turned reminds us not all convictions are safe.

  • rate this

    Comment number 404.

    There are several other search engines such as Baidu, Yandex and DuckDuckGo, none of which have any operations in the E.U and they are subject to the ruling, so the removal from some search services with E.U operations is all very well, but what use is it if others have the same links available and there's nothing the E.U can do about it?

  • rate this

    Comment number 403.

    Re 401 - Just occurred to me you could be talking about the conviction itself which, being 'null and void', legally might be thought to have not happened? If so my apologies.

    However, that still just sounds like legal double talk to me, on a par with 'the jury will disregard the last answer'.

  • rate this

    Comment number 402.

    Removing links from search engines is pointless as the pages are still there so new links can be created with very little hassle and shared from other websites and social media. This is nothing more than censorship.

  • rate this

    Comment number 401.

    393. NicM99 - "...for google to continue to point links to an event that legally did not happen."

    Not having a go, but don't understand this.

    An event either happened or it didn't. Whether the event was a crime or not is a legal judgement, but it not being a crime, or someone not being guilty of it, doesn't mean the event didn't happen.

  • rate this

    Comment number 400.

    Ironic the article not only mentions the guy in the Wall Street Journal case, but links to it too. Isn't that double standards, doing exactly the same as the Hiddenfromgoogle site, and is exactly what the Irish Commissioner, Billy Hawkes, is saying is wrong to do? I *was* going to contact Dave Lee with my proof of how farcical google's actions are, but I don't think he's neutral enough to bother

  • rate this

    Comment number 399.

    I don't believe that Google or any other search engine should be responsible to determine what is to be forgotten and what is to be included in search results. The court that made that ruling should be the one which issues an official order to the search companies what search results are not to be included in the search results otherwise all results would be eliminated.

  • rate this

    Comment number 398.

    I can see why you might want to have inaccurate information pulled from the search engine. A potential or current employer may look you up and make decisions based on that faulty or incomplete information.
    Google is the largest search engine, so it's likely that it will be the one that they use.
    However, they do need to make sure that links are removed for legitimate reasons.


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