This Jan. 3, 2013, file photo shows a Google sign at the company's headquarters in Mountain View, Calif
The Court of Justice of the European Union ruled in May 2014 that search engines — Google included — must give people the possibility to have their personal information erased under certain conditions. Google has complied with the court's decision, which became widely known as "the right to be forgotten," but it only applied to Google's European sites.
On Wednesday, the European Union's data protection authorities have adopted a new set of guidelines regarding the court's decision, requiring Google to extend the rule to the rest of the Internet as well.
The new guidelines have not been published yet, but a press release from Brussels makes it clear that simply removing a link from Google's EU sites will no longer suffice. From the release:
"...in order to give full effect to the data subject’s rights as defined in the Court’s ruling, 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 (...) 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. In practice, this means that in any case de-listing should also be effective on all relevant .com domains."
It's not entirely clear at this point whether the ruling applies only to European citizens, but the press release says that it applies to situations in which there is a "clear link between the data subject and the EU."
The original court ruling was criticized because, in many cases, removing one's personal data from google.es, for example, and leaving it on google.com, was essentially pointless. Some critics, such as blogger Jeff Jarvis, were unhappy with the ruling's implications when it comes to freedom of speech. In a tweet, Jarvis said the ruling is a "blow against free speech."
EU's 'right to be forgotten' is a blow against free speech.— Jeff Jarvis (@jeffjarvis) May 13, 2014
Still, Google's online form that lets people request to be "forgotten" garnered a lot of interest, generating 12,000 requests in the first two days after it was launched. According to Google's Transparency Report, there have been more than 174,000 requests to date. Out of all requests to remove an URL from its search results so far, Google has complied in 41.5% of the cases.
The new guidelines, while not legally binding at this point, could have far-fetching implications. First, handling user requests of this sort (especially on a global scale) is expensive, and while Google probably has the means to do it, it could pose a problem for some search engines and tech companies.
Secondly, it potentially moves Google's European woes to a global arena — a precedent which might have an impact on other similar decisions in the future.
A Google spokesman told The New York Times Wednesday the company has not yet reviewed the new guidelines, which are due to be published Friday.
Tags: APPS AND SOFTWARE, EU, Google, RIGHT TO BE FORGOTTEN, US & World, WORLD