Google plans to censor European “Right To Be Forgotten” links on sites worldwide, for those searching from the specific European countries where particular requests were made. This would make it much harder for those in Europe to switch to non-European versions of Google and still find these links.
The Situation Now: Removals Only From European Editions
Under Europe’s Right To Be Forgotten, Europeans can request that search engines like Google remove links that they consider to violate their privacy or that are deemed harmful in some way and no longer relevant to the public interest. Those requesting removal have to specify both the links they want dropped and the specific search terms they want the links removed from.
If granted, Google will:
- Drop the links only for the specific search terms requested. They continue to appear for other search terms.
- Drop the links only for its European sites.
- Continue to show the links for all searches in Google editions for non-European countries.
To understand more, here’s an example. Let’s say there’s someone named “Magdalena Doetgeta,” who lives in Germany and was convicted for drunk driving in 1998. When you search for her name, an article about the arrest comes up. She’s embarrassed about this and feels it’s no longer relevant, given how much time has passed since the conviction happened.
She files a request, asking that a link to the article be removed. If granted, that link would disappear for a search on her name. It would, however, still appear for other search terms that weren’t part of the removal request, such as “Drunk driving arrests in Munich in 1998.”
The rules above also mean that this would only happen for those searching on a European edition of Google, such as Google France or Google UK. At these editions of Google, the link would not show for her name.
If someone went to a non-European edition of Google, such as Google.com or Google Canada, even if they were physically within Europe, they would still see the link appearing for her name.
The Change: Removals From All Editions Globally, Only For Those In The Requesting Country
With the change, which we understand will happen in the near future, Right To Be Forgotten links will be dropped from all versions of Google worldwide, for anyone who is detected to be searching from the specific European country where the request came from.
In other words, Google would follow these new rules:
- Drop the links only for the specific search terms requested, as before.
- Drop the links for its European sites, as before.
- Drop the links for worldwide from all Google editions, for those in the specific country where the request came from.
I’ve bolded the change. It can be hard to get your head around, so let’s go back to our earlier example.
As before, anyone searching in Europe for our person’s name on a European version of Google would not find the link about her drunk driving conviction.
As before, anyone searching in Europe would find the link for her name if they used a non-European version of Google like Google.com or Google Canada, EXCEPT if they are in the country from which the request originated.
In this case, the person was based in Germany. That’s where the request would be deemed to have originated. With the change, if she or anyone physically within Germany were to search for her name, the link would not appear, regardless of what edition of Google they use. It would be gone from Google Germany, Google France, Google.com, Google Canada — gone from all versions of Google globally, for her name.
Why Make This Change?
To date, Google has removed roughly 43 percent of submitted links, or a total of 1.4 million URLs:
Those removals, as explained, only happened for those in Europe using European editions of Google. A loophole of using non-European editions remained, something that France’s Commission Nationale de l’informatique et des Libertés (CNIL) wanted closed.
Last year, CNIL threatened to fine Google €150,000 ($169,000) for failing to apply the rule on a worldwide basis. It argued that the failure to do so effectively undermined what the Right To Be Forgotten was intended to protect. Google appealed CNIL’s order.
Today, Reuters reported that the worldwide change will come, following previous reports last month by Le Monde and EFE. Search Engine Land independently confirmed the accuracy of these reports with Google today.
It also seems that Google is likely waiting for CNIL to agree to the plan. From the Reuters story, CNIL makes statements suggesting this is being reviewed as a solution. It’s possible that it might be accepted; it’s also possible that CNIL might demand that worldwide censorship happen for any European in any European country, not just for those in the country where a request was filed. Or, CNIL might continue pressing for links to be dropped in all editions of Google for anyone, worldwide, as it originally asked for.