Google advisers: Limit 'right to be forgotten' to Europe

The recommendation isn't likely to please the European Union, which has argued that user takedown requests should be applied by Google globally.

Lance Whitney Contributing Writer
Lance Whitney is a freelance technology writer and trainer and a former IT professional. He's written for Time, CNET, PCMag, and several other publications. He's the author of two tech books--one on Windows and another on LinkedIn.
Lance Whitney
3 min read

Googe has the backing of its own advisory group in restricting takedown requests to Europe.

An advisory group set up by Google is backing the search engine's belief that so-called "right to be forgotten" requests should be restricted to Europe.

Google has been complying with a May ruling from the European Union that requires it to honor requests from users in Europe asking that search engines remove specific results that may no longer be relevant or may infringe upon that person's privacy. But Google has restricted the takedown requests to its European domains, such as Google.fr in France, and not to its global domain. That means people across the world, including those in Europe, can still access those disputed links via Google.com. The European Union believes those requests should be applied worldwide.

But a report released on Friday by Google's eight-member Advisory Council found that confining the requests just to the European Union follows the intent of the ruling. The members acknowledged that expanding the requests globally might ensure the "more absolute protection of a data subject's rights." But the group also cited two arguments against such a move.

First, users outside of Europe may need to search for information whose links have been removed across the European Union. In that case, the needs of citizens in other countries would come into conflict with any takedown requests applied globally. Second, users within Europe may need to access versions of Google's search engine beyond the ones available in their own countries. Though it would be technically possible to block European users from accessing a site such as Google.com, the council expressing concerns about the ramifications of implementing such a block.

"The Council supports effective measures to protect the rights of data subjects," the group said in its report. "Given concerns of proportionality and practical effectiveness, it concludes that removal from nationally directed versions of Google's search services within the EU is the appropriate means to implement the Ruling at this stage."

The recommendation from the council is just that -- a recommendation. It has no legal bearing on Google, which must decide on its own how to implement the EU's ruling in general and case by case.

The council does include Google insiders, such as Executive Chairman Eric Schmidt and the company's chief legal officer, David Drummond. But it mostly consists of third parties, including Wikipedia founder James Wales, Oxford University professor of philosophy Luciano Floridi and a former director of the Spanish Data Protection Agency, José-Luis Piñar. Some of these people have been more in line with Google's interpretation of the overall ruling, while others have been more concerned about the privacy of the people submitting takedown requests.

Though the group as a whole sided with Google in limiting the removal of search results to Europe, not all members were on the same page, according to The New York Times.

Wales voiced his resistance to expanding the takedown requests globally and to the ruling in general, saying that "I completely oppose the legal situation in which a commercial company is forced to become the judge of our most fundamental rights of expression and privacy."

But Sabine Leutheusser-Schnarrenberger, a former German federal justice minister, sided with the European Union, saying that "since EU residents are able to research globally, the EU is authorized to decide that the search engine has to delete all the links globally."

Google did not immediately respond to CNET's request for comment.