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Google To Expand Right To Be Forgotten Filtering Outside Europe

Wednesday, January 14th, 2015

According to recent reports, Google is under pressure from the European authorities to scrub search results that violate the “Right To Be Forgotten” ruling even from its international website (Google.com domain). As things stand now, Google filters results from a country level domain (google.fr, googlr.co.uk, google.es, google.it etc.) upon receiving a link removal request but does not remove them for queries made through Google.com. However, if the European data regulators have their way, the search giant may have to honor the “Right To Be Forgotten” ruling even outside Europe.

The “Right To Be Forgotten” judgement, which came into effect in the month of May this year, provides an easy and simple way for European citizens to remove outdated and defamatory information about themselves from the search results. Since Google started accepting link removal requests, the company has received more than 170,000 requests for removal of more than 600,000 links. Out of the total requests received so far, the company has removed more than 58% (over 300,000) links from the search results.

The most important thing about the “Right To Be Forgotten” filtering is that it gets triggered only when the search query is made through the local version of Google and includes the name of the person who has made the link removal request. The problem with this link removal approach is that the filtered results are visible even inside the country from which the removal request was made just by switching to the international version (or a different country level domain) of Google. And since Google.com is readily accessible from within Europe, people submitting link removal requests feel that the “Right To Be Forgotten” ruling is not having the desired effect.

A recent ruling by a French court may force Google to revisit its “Right To Be Forgotten” link removal process. The case involved a lawyer who filed and won a case against Google to remove defamatory search results targeting his firm from appearing in the Google search results worldwide. However, Google removed the links only from Google.fr and ignored requests to scrub the same links from Google.com. As a result, Google France was fined €1,000 a day for failing to remove the disparaging links from all search results. The court concluded that since the activities of Google France and Google.com are inextricably linked as per ECJ’s (European Court of Justice) “Right To Be Forgotten” ruling, the French subsidiary could be fined for the actions of its parent company.

The ruling puts Google in a difficult spot and may even pave the way for more injunctions against the European subsidiaries of the company. The European data regulators maintain that while they don’t have jurisdiction over Google.com, the delisting of links should happen on all relevant domains (including .com) and the “Right To Be Forgotten” ruling should not be easy to circumvent. It would be interesting to see how Google reacts to the latest demand from the EU regulators and whether or not it can come up with a link removal process that can satisfy the needs of all the stakeholders. It must be kept in mind that Europe remains a key market for the company so Google can ill afford to neglect the demands of European governments and data regulators.

January 14, 2015

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