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EU, Google, Microsoft, Yahoo meet on 'right to be forgotten' but questions remain

Loek Essers | July 29, 2014
European Google users may now see a warning when they search for a name.

European data protection authorities still have questions after meeting with Google, Microsoft and Yahoo about the implementation of a recent ruling that gave European citizens the right to be forgotten by search engines.

The search engine providers have until the end of the month to answer additional questions in writing.

Google, Microsoft and Yahoo met with EU data protection authorities who are members of the EU's Article 29 Working Party (A29WP) in Brussels on Thursday to discuss the May ruling by the Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU). The ruling gave people the right to compel search engines to remove search results in Europe for queries that include a person's name, if the results shown are "inadequate, irrelevant or no longer relevant, or excessive."

However, the implementation of the ruling has turned out to be difficult to execute. Google already described the guidelines for removing query results "very vague and subjective."

The A29WP data protection authorities (DPAs) said in a news release that they had requested the meeting with the search engine officials in order to get input for future guidelines. The aim is to ensure a consistent implementation of the take-down ruling on the part of the search engine providers as well as consistent handling of complaints lodged with the authorities by people whose requests were denied, the DPAs said.

Confusion about the ruling could lead to a large number of complaints that the DPAs would then have to deal with -- a situation they apparently want to avoid.

Google said at the meeting that it has refused about 30 percent of requests, according to the statement from the DPAs. So far, the search engine has received 91,000 take-down requests concerning 328,000 links to Web addresses, a Google spokesman confirmed. About 15 percent of requests prompted Google to ask additional information. Over half of all requests have been granted.

Other than confirming take-down figures, Google declined to comment on the meeting, as did Microsoft. Yahoo did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

During the meeting the DPAs asked the search engines to explain their delisting process, according to the news release. The DPAs said they asked what criteria search engines use when balancing their economic interest and the interest of the general public in having access to information with the right of the person who wants the search results delisted.

Search engines were also asked if they notify website publishers when links are removed -- something that Google does -- and if so, what legal basis they have for sending out notifications.

The DPAs also wanted to know on what domains search results are delisted. Google for instance removes results from its European domains but not from its .com domain. It argues that the .com domain is not covered by the ruling because it is not aimed at Europeans in particular.

 

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