After months of dragging its feet, Google agreed to delist disputed URLs from all of its search domains in the European Union.
Starting this week, Google will use a new, broader approach for delisting search results under the Europe Union's "Right to Be Forgotten" mandate.
The move is in response to growing pressure on Google from EU data protection authorities that have been critical of the manner in which the company had implemented the mandate till now.
The Right to Be Forgotten (RTBF) mandate gives EU residents the right to ask Google and other search engine companies to delist search results that contain inadequate, irrelevant or incorrect information on them. It is designed to give individuals a way to ensure that search queries for their name do not result in links to articles that are defamatory or inaccurate.
Up to this week's change, Google's approach to implementing the mandate was to remove links to search results from all versions of Google Search in the EU such as google.fr, google.de and google.co.uk. However, the company had maintained that it was not obligated under the mandate to delist search results in Google.com and other non-EU search domains that are accessible from EU member nations.
EU data protection authorities had described the company's position as disingenuous and not in line with the intent or spirit of the RTBF mandate. They had argued that Google's stance essentially allowed EU residents to access delisted search results simply by conducting their search on Google.com instead of the local domain.
Going forward, Google will use IP addresses and other geo-location data to restrict access to delisted URLs on all Google search domains accessible from the country of the person making the delisting request, Peter Fleischer, Google's global privacy consul, wrote
in a recent blog post.
As a result of the change, Google users in the EU will no longer have access to delisted search results via Google.com or any EU or non-EU Google search domain. Delisted URLs, however, will still come up in searches conducted outside the EU.
"Since May 2014, we've worked hard to find the right balance as we implement the European Court's ruling," Fleischer said. "Despite occasional disagreements, we've maintained a collaborative dialogue with data protection authorities throughout. We're committed to continuing to work in this way."
According to Fleischer, Google will apply its new policy retrospectively to all search results it has already delisted following RTBF requests. Google's Transparency Report
shows that the company so far has evaluated more than 1.4 million URLs for removal in response to nearly 399,000 RTBF requests. It has delisted about 43 percent of the links so far while leaving the remaining 57 percent in place.
Google's new approach to RTBF addresses one of the major complaints against it in the EU. This suggests that the company is beginning to feel some of the heat being put on it by multiple entities there.
The European Commission is currently investigating charges that Google is using its dominant market position to compete in a manner that violates EU anti-competition laws.
The company could face billions of dollars in fines if it is found to have engaged in a monopolistic manner.
Google is also under considerable scrutiny from tax officials in the United Kingdom
and France who have recently accused the company of seriously underpaying taxes on revenues earned in the two countries over the past several years. France's finance ministry is reportedly seeking
some $1.8 billion in back taxes from Google.