EU wants 'right to be forgotten' applied globally

Privacy watchdogs in Europe say the controversial ruling, which affects only local European versions of Google's search engine, should be applied more broadly.

Richard Nieva Former senior reporter
Richard Nieva was a senior reporter for CNET News, focusing on Google and Yahoo. He previously worked for PandoDaily and Fortune Magazine, and his writing has appeared in The New York Times, on CNNMoney.com and on CJR.org.
Richard Nieva
2 min read

Privacy watchdogs in Europe say the "right to be forgotten" ruling should be applied to .com websites too. Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

Privacy regulators in Europe want the region's "right to be forgotten" ruling to be applied worldwide.

The European Union in May decided people could request that their names be excluded from search results in Europe, if the results were deemed outdated or irrelevant. So far, more than 170,000 requests have been made, asking to remove all manner of webpages, including news articles, from Google's search results.

Google, the largest search engine in Europe, applied the ruling only to local versions of the site -- like google.fr in France or google.de in Germany -- but not Google.com. The EU wants to change that.

The body representing the EU's 28 national privacy regulators said in a press conference Wednesday the ruling should be applied to all Internet domains, according to news reports.

"All the extensions are included, including the .com," said Isabelle Falque-Pierrotin, head of France's privacy watchdog and the Article 29 Working Party, according to Bloomberg.

And in a statement (PDF), the panel said:

...Delisting 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. In that sense, limiting delisting 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. In practice, this means that in any case delisting should also be effective on all relevant .com domains.

The new guidelines underscore a debate Google has had with regulators in Europe over how it should implement the "right to be forgotten" ruling. For example, Falque-Pierrotin also criticized Google's practice of notifying news outlets of the company's decision to exclude links -- which often brings people that wanted their names scrubbed back into the spotlight.

The matter also compounds Google's troubles in the region. The European Parliament is expected to call for a breakup, or "unbundling," of Google's search business from the rest of its commercial services. Google is also the subject of a now four-year-long antitrust investigation by the European Commission.

The guidelines presented by the Article 29 Working party are not legally binding, and it's unclear whether Google will follow them. A Google spokesman said the company had not yet seen the guidelines but will "study them carefully when they're published." They are expected to be published later this week.

Enforcement of the guidelines would be tricky because Google does not have one broad European domain. Google has said it excluded google.com because whenever European users type that into a browser, they're sent to a special local version, which applies the ruling.