European Union Finally Publishes Guidelines on Right to Be Forgotten

Set guidelines will at least mean that search engines are erasing links in a uniform way.

Image by cooperr/Shutterstock

Search engines (mainly Google) that have been attempting to comply with the European Union’s right-to-be-forgotten regulations have had to muddle through without guidance for making subjective decisions about what to take down and what to leave up. Now the EU has finally released guidelines.

Based on the new document, Google is doing a decent job implementing a policy that it fought against, but the committee notes some changes it would like to see. For example, officials want Google to honor takedown requests for pages with a .com top-level domain. So far, Google has been avoiding this by arguing that .com is rarely used on European websites.

The group also writes that Google and other search engines shouldn’t be notifying both users and site operators that a search result has been removed. The group feels that it calls unnecessary attention to the takedown requests and that the practice has “no legal basis.”

Overall, the guidelines state:

A balance of the relevant rights and interests has to be made and the outcome may depend on the nature and sensitivity of the processed data and on the interest of the public in having access to that particular information. The interest of the public will be significantly greater if the data subject plays a role in public life.

Whether the guidelines set a good precedent or not, they’re kind of necessary at this point given that other search engines like Bing are beginning to honor takedown requests. Microsoft said in a statement to the Next Web, “We’ve begun processing requests as a result of the court’s ruling and in accordance with the guidance from European data protection authorities. While we’re still refining that process, our goal is to strike a satisfactory balance between individual privacy interests and the public’s interest in free expression.”

It’s important to remember that right to be forgotten rules don’t actually dictate the removal of data—they just provide a framework for erasing evidence of it from search engines. The new guidelines clarify this: “The right only affects the results obtained from searches made on the basis of a person’s name and does not require deletion of the link from the indexes of the search engine altogether. That is, the original information will still be accessible using other search terms, or by direct access to the publisher’s original source.”