In what could be a sign that Google is finally feeling the pressure from European data regulators, the company has reportedly agreed to block access more broadly than it does now to search results that fall afoul of the European Union’s “right to be forgotten” mandate.
The mandate, which went into effect in 2014, basically gives EU residents the right to ask Google and other search engine companies to remove links to search results that contain incorrect, outdated or defamatory information about them. The mandate is the result of a lawsuit filed by an individual in Spain who wanted Google to remove search engine links to two articles that he claimed contained incorrect and defamatory information about him.
Google’s response to the requirement to date has been to remove links to search engine results that are visible to online users in Europe conducting searches via the company’s European domains.
The company has steadfastly refused to remove links to the same results for searches conducted via Google.com and via domains outside Europe. Google has maintained that it is sufficiently meeting the requirements of the mandate by blocking results on European domains and that doing more would impinge on the rights of others where no such restrictions exist.
However, in a report Thursday, the New York Times said that Google is on the verge of acceding to the demands for broader implementation of the right to be forgotten requirement. Google reportedly has informed EU data protection authorities that it will start blocking access to disputed links not just on its European search domains but also on Google.com and its non-European domains. In cases where Google determines a user requesting link removal has a legitimate reason for doing so, that link will not be visible in searches conducted in the 28-member EU via any of Google’s domains.
The Times report quoted a French official as saying that Google had informed the country’s privacy authority of the planned change. Officials there are still trying to determine whether the change is enough to bring Google into full compliance with the mandate, the official reported told the Times.
Google did not respond immediately to a request for comment on the planned change to its search engine results in Europe.
European data protection officials and even rights advocacy groups in the United States and elsewhere have slammed Google’s stance and have described it as being inconsistent with the spirit of the right to be forgotten mandate. They have noted that by only partially blocking access to disputed search results, Google has left the door open for anyone in the EU and elsewhere to access those links simply by conducting the same search on Google.com or via its non-European search domain.
Google’s Transparency Report shows the company has reviewed nearly 1.4 million URLs in response to some 386,000 link removal requests from the EU since May 29, 2014, when the mandate went into effect. So far, the company says it has blocked access to 42.5 percent of the disputed URLs while leaving the remaining intact.
But while the numbers might appear impressive, European data protection authorities have been demanding that Google apply the requirements across all its domains, including Google.com. Several data protection authorities, like France’s CNIL (Commission Nationale de l’Informatique et des Libertés), have warned that the company would face sanctions. Meanwhile, others have put pressure on Google to release more information on how it handles link removal requests and the basis it uses for acceding to or denying a request.