Right-To-Be-Forgotten links likely to be removed by Google from global searches

Ever since Google began their ‘Right To Be Forgotten’ (RTBF) in 2006, 43% of links submitted (approx. 1.4 million URLs) have been removed. Now, Google plans to remove European RTBF links from worldwide search engines for those searching in the country where the request was made, making it almost impossible for anyone in Europe to find removed links by changing to non-European Google searches. According to their European RTBF policy, people can request that links violating privacy, being harmful or no longer relevant to public interest be removed from search engines. To make a request, the person needs to provide details of the links they want removed and the search terms that relate to these. If granted, Google remove the links for the specific European search terms only, but these links still appear under other relevant searches using non-European versions of Google, which is something of a significant loophole. If the change goes ahead, Google would remove the links for the specific search terms requested, including those for its European sites. Most importantly, they’d remove links worldwide from all editions of Google but only if they pick up the search as being made by someone in the same country as the original RTBF request. If, for example, Joe Smith from the UK has a spent criminal conviction dating back over a decade, he could submit an RTBF request for links to his conviction to be removed based on specific search terms. Currently, the link would disappear for a search under his name but only for those searching on European editions of Google, e.g. Google France, Google Germany or Google UK. If someone in the UK circumnavigated the system by searching on America’s Google.com or Google Canada, they may still be able to see the results under his name. The proposed change would mean that if someone in the UK used, for example, Google.com, to search for Joe Smith, the link wouldn’t appear, although someone geographically based in America searching for Joe Smith would be still be able find the result. France is thought to be the driving force behind Google’s proposed change, since their Commission Nationale de l’informatique et des Libertés (CNIL) picked up the loophole in current RTBF policy and started putting pressure on Google to change things. They even threatened a fine of €150,000, based on the strength of their argument that Google’s current practice undermines the basic principles of RTBF. Initially, Google opposed France’s request but now appear to have agreed to it, with Reuters reporting that Google intend to make the changes, although no timescale is confirmed. It’s thought, however, that Google are waiting for CNIL to agree to their proposals. According to Reuters, CNIL is reviewing Google’s solution but might well demand a worldwide implementation of the proposed change so that, when links are removed, they’re erased from global search engines, not just hidden from view in the country where the original request was lodged.


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