Google is gearing up to respond to European privacy regulators’ call, from last fall, that it should be implementing search de-listing requests across Google.com domains, not just European sub-domains — as it currently is.
Search de-listing refers to Europe’s so-called ‘right to be forgotten‘ ruling — following a decision by the European Court of Justice last May which identified search engines as data controllers, and determined they must accept requests from private individuals wanting old, irrelevant or outdated information de-associated from an Internet search for their name.
Google started accepting and processing de-listing requests last summer, and has now evaluated more than 202,000 requests asking for more than 733,000 URLs to be removed, according to its Transparency Report. It has only agreed to a minority of requests, removing just under 238,000 URLs from search results since the process began last year.
Speaking at an event in Brussels yesterday, Google’s chief legal officer, David Drummond, said the company will shortly be reviewing its implementation of the ECJ ruling.
“We’ve had a basic approach, we’ve followed it, on this question we’ve made removals Europe-wide but not beyond,” Drummond is quoted by Reuters as saying.
In November the Article 29 Working Party of European regulators stipulated that search de-listing should apply to search results displayed on Google.com, not just on European sub-domains such as Google.co.uk — in order to avoid an easy circumventing of the law.
Google has ignored the regulators’ recommendations so far. But it’s evidently gearing up to tackle the extraterritoriality issue head on. And it seems highly unlikely Mountain View is going to suddenly roll over and agree to the WP29 guidelines on this point.
Google’s Schmidt has previously said his view is that a European ruling should not apply outside Europe because most searches inside Europe do not spill over to Google.com. Drummond reiterated that perspective yesterday: “It’s our strong view that there needs to be some way of limiting the concept, because it is a European concept,” he said.
Drummond indicated Google intends to be steered on this point by a report compiled by a group of non-Google employees from fields such as media law, ethics and philosophy who were selected by Google to act as ‘independent’ experts as part of its rtbf ‘advisory council’ — which held a series of public events in European cities last year, allowing Google to keep voicing opposition and contra perspectives to the ruling.
“We’ll take that [the advisory council report], along with the Article 29 input and other input and arrive at an approach,” Drummond said, adding that the council’s report is due towards the end of this month.
Whatever the report concludes on the extraterritoriality point, Google is clearly leaving itself wiggle room to shape its own response.
It must also be said that Google has structured and managed the advisory council’s ‘outsider perspective’ by selecting and co-ordinating the members and meetings of the group. So even though the individuals aren’t themselves employed by Google they were certainly participating in a drama of Google’s making. So it will certainly be interesting to see which side of the debate they come down on.
Extraterritoriality is a key point for the right to be forgotten because the current implementation by Google leaves a very trivial workaround, eroding the privacy protecting impact of search de-listing. However critics of the ruling object to the notion that a European privacy ruling should be allowed to shape search results that Americans (or others outside Europe) are able to see.
With the current backdrop of free speech concerns in Europe, after the terror attacks on Charlie Hebdo, Google will be hoping it’s able to gain backing for the latter perspective.