by Samuel Gibbs
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The US search company comes under pressure from European data regulators who say the ruling on visibility of search results should apply internationally
Google comes under pressure from European data regulators to apply ‘right to be forgotten’ removals to Google.com. Photograph: Dominic Lipinski/PA
European data regulators are set to instruct Google to apply “right to be forgotten” search result deletions outside of Europe on Google.com.
The Article 29 cross-European panel of data protection watchdogs announced its guidance that search result removals should be carried out beyond local European domains such as google.co.uk, google.fr and google.de to prevent circumvention of the right to be forgotten law.
“De-listing decisions must be implemented in such a way that they guarantee the effective and complete protection of data subjects’ rights and that EU law cannot be circumvented,” Article 29 said in a statement. “Limiting de-listing to EU domains on the grounds that users tend to access search engines via their national domains cannot be considered a sufficient means to satisfactorily guarantee the rights of data subjects according to the ruling.”
‘De-listing should also be effective on all relevant .com domains’
The right to be forgotten ruling allows Europeans to apply to remove outdated information about them from search engine listings. Google has approximately a 90% market share of search in Europe, making it the primary focus of the rulings and watchdog attention.
Google’s initial implementation of the ruling requires users to fill out a form, which is reviewed on a case-by-case basis. The search results may then be removed from a local European domain, but not from the US search giant’s main google.com domain or other non-European domains.
Since launching its webform for right to be forgotten requests in May, 174,266 requests have been filed for 602,479 links according to the company. Google has removed 352,450 links or 58.5% of the requested search results from across Europe.
France ranks top with 34,632 requests for 105,593 links, Germany second with 29,528 requests for 103,089 links and the UK third with 22,467 requests for 81,413 links.
Only searches that include a person’s name will provoke the search result blocks under the right to be forgotten ruling. Searches for the same article or website that do not include the name, instead relying on other keywords, will still show the search result.
Google also places a warning on named searches that “some results may have been removed under data protection law in Europe”.
Article 29 considers this insufficient to satisfy the ruling stating that: “in practice, this means that in any case de-listing should also be effective on all relevant .com domains.”
“We haven’t yet seen the Article 29 Working Party’s guidelines, but we will study them carefully when they’re published,” a Google spokesman told the Guardian.
The Article 29 working group represents all the major data regulators across Europe and issues guidelines on pan-European regulatory issues. But it is down to the data regulators in the individual countries, including the UK’s Information commissioners office (Ico), to enforce the guidelines.
“We will use these guidelines, which we played a significant part in developing, as the basis for our own implementation of the judgment. This will reflect the specific requirements of the UK Data Protection Act,” said David Smith, Ico deputy commissioner and director of data protection in a statement to the Guardian. “In the coming weeks we will publish our own version of the guidelines and information for the public to help them understand when they can expect a search result based on their name to be delisted.”
“The internet brings an international element to our work, and in reality our powers are limited to enforcement against data controllers within our jurisdiction. Nevertheless, the effect of the judgement should not be easily circumvented, meaning that delisting should be effective on all relevant domains. This means that removing links to a .co.uk search engine, but not to a .com search engine that is readily accessible in the UK, is unlikely to be enough to do what the ruling requires,” Smith said.