News / Europe

Google Under Fire from Regulators over Response to EU Privacy Ruling

FILE - A Google search page is reflected in sunglasses in this photo illustration taken in Brussels, May 30, 2014.FILE - A Google search page is reflected in sunglasses in this photo illustration taken in Brussels, May 30, 2014.
x
FILE - A Google search page is reflected in sunglasses in this photo illustration taken in Brussels, May 30, 2014.
FILE - A Google search page is reflected in sunglasses in this photo illustration taken in Brussels, May 30, 2014.
Reuters

Google's handling of “right to be forgotten” requests from European citizens will come under fire from the continent's privacy watchdogs on Thursday, after the search engine restricted the removal of Internet links to European sites only.

European data protection authorities are meeting representatives of Google, Microsoft, which operates the Bing search engine, and Yahoo to discuss the implementation of the landmark ruling from Europe's top court upholding people's right to request that outdated links be removed from Internet search results.

European Union privacy watchdogs have several concerns on the way the ruling, which has pitted privacy advocates against free speech defenders, is being implemented, particularly by Google, according to a person familiar with the matter.

Regulators can take Google to court if it refuses to meet their demands, as happened in Spain where the “right to be forgotten” ruling originated.

Under particular scrutiny is Google's decision to only remove results from its European search engines, such as google.co.uk, meaning anyone can easily access the hidden information by switching to the widely used google.com.

Experts have said this effectively defeats the purpose of the ruling, which gives people the right to ask search engines to stop links to information deemed “inadequate, irrelevant or no longer relevant, or excessive” from appearing in searches for their name.

“Google has claimed that the decision is restricted to localized versions of Google,” said Ashley Hurst, a partner at Olswang, a law firm. “There appears to be no basis for that claim at all.”

Google declined to comment ahead of Thursday's meeting.

Transparency versus privacy

Another issue likely to be raised by the EU watchdogs is Google's decision to notify the owners of the websites that have been removed from search results.

This sparked controversy three weeks ago when Europe's most popular search engine removed links to an article by a well-known BBC journalist about an ex-Wall Street banker and several links to stories in Britain's Guardian newspaper.

The authors of the stories promptly wrote about the removal, thereby drawing attention to the issue and feeding speculation about who requested the removal. Google eventually reinstated a few links to the Guardian articles.

EU privacy watchdogs are concerned about the effect the notification process could have on people making the requests, according to a person familiar with the matter.

Google already notifies the owners of websites that are removed from search results due to copyright infringements.

Privacy advocates and legal experts said the backlash over the newspaper articles showed the difficulty of implementing the privacy ruling given the broad criteria laid down by the court for information that is inadequate or irrelevant.

“We are likely to see complainants dressing up libel complaints as data protection complaints as it is easier to prove that data is inaccurate than it is to prove that it is libelous,” Hurst said. “This will lead to some difficult decisions for Google.”

European privacy tour

California-based Google faces a number of privacy headaches in Europe, where rules protecting people's personal data are much stricter than in the United States.

While the EU has been discussing a major overhaul of its pre-Internet era data protection laws for over two years, the debate heated up last year after revelations that the United States had been conducting mass surveillance programs involving European citizens and some heads of state.

U.S. web companies, including Google, Microsoft, and Facebook, came under increased scrutiny over their handling of swaths of personal data in Europe.

In a sign of the importance Google is attaching to the privacy debate in Europe, it has recruited a panel of high profile academics, policymakers and civil society experts to advise it on how to implement the ruling as it plows through the over 70,000 requests it has received so far.

Separately, a group consisting of representatives from the EU's 28 data protection regulators are developing guidelines to help them deal with complaints against Google in a coherent manner, given the differences in national data protection legislation. Thursday's meeting will feed into that process.

Complaints from people whose requests have been refused by Google have begun to trickle in. The British privacy regulator had received 23 complaints by Tuesday afternoon, a spokesman said, while complaints to the French and Italian authorities were still in single figures. 

You May Like

Turbulent Transition Imperils Tunisia’s Arab Spring Gains

Critics say new anti-terrorism laws worsen Tunisia's situation while others put faith in country’s vibrant civil organizations, women’s movement More

Burundi’s Political Crisis May Become Humanitarian One

United Nations aid agencies issue warning as deadly violence sends tens of thousands fleeing More

Yemenis Adjust to Life Under Houthi Rule

Locals want warring parties to strike deal to stop bloodletting before deciding how country is governed More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Texas Town Residents Told to 'Just Leave' Ahead of Flood Threati
X
Greg Flakus
May 29, 2015 11:24 PM
Water from heavy rain in eastern and central Texas is now swelling rivers that flow into the Gulf of Mexico, threatening towns along their banks. VOA’s Greg Flakus visited the town of Wharton, southwest of Houston, where the Colorado River is close to cresting.
Video

Video Texas Town Residents Told to 'Just Leave' Ahead of Flood Threat

Water from heavy rain in eastern and central Texas is now swelling rivers that flow into the Gulf of Mexico, threatening towns along their banks. VOA’s Greg Flakus visited the town of Wharton, southwest of Houston, where the Colorado River is close to cresting.
Video

Video New York's One World Trade Center Observatory Opens to Public

From New Jersey to Long Island, from Northern suburbs to the Atlantic Ocean, with all of New York City in-between.  That view became available to the public Friday as the One World Trade Center Observatory opened in New York -- atop the replacement for the buildings destroyed in the September 11, 2001, attacks.  VOA’s Bernard Shusman reports.
Video

Video Seoul Sponsors Korean Unification Fair

With inter-Korean relations deteriorating over the North’s nuclear program, past military provocations and human rights abuses, many Koreans still hold out hope for eventual peaceful re-unification. VOA’s Brian Padden visited a “unification fair” held this week in Seoul, where border communities promoted the benefits of increased cooperation.
Video

Video Purple Door Coffeeshop: Changing Lives One Cup at a Time

For a quarter of his life, Kevin Persons lived on the street. Today, he is working behind the counter of an espresso bar, serving coffee and working to transition off the streets and into a home. Paul Vargas reports for VOA.
Video

Video Modular Robot Getting Closer to Reality

A robot being developed at Carnegie Mellon University has evolved into a multi-legged modular mechanical snake, able to move over rugged surfaces and explore the surroundings. Scientists say such machines could someday help in search and rescue operations. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Shanghai Hosts Big Consumer Electronics Show

Electronic gadgets are a huge success in China, judging by the first Asian Consumer Electronics Show, held this week in Shanghai. Over the course of two days, more than 20,000 visitors watched, tested and played with useful and some less-useful electronic devices exhibited by about 200 manufacturers. VOA’s George Putic has more.
Video

Video Forced to Return Home, Afghan Refugees Face Increased Hardship

Undocumented refugees returning to Afghanistan from Pakistan have no jobs, no support system, and no home return to, and international aid agencies say they and the government are overwhelmed and under-resourced. Ayesha Tanzeem has more from Kabul.
Video

Video Britain Makes Controversial Move to Crack Down on Extremism

Britain is moving to tighten controls on extremist rhetoric, even when it does not incite violence or hatred -- a move that some are concerned might unduly restrict basic freedoms. It is an issue many countries are grappling with as extremist groups gain power in the Middle East, fueled in part by donations and fighters from the West. VOA’s Al Pessin reports from London.
Video

Video 3D Printer Makes Replica of Iconic Sports Car

Cars with parts made by 3D printers are already on the road, but engineers are still learning about this new technology. While testing the possibility of printing an entire car, researchers at the U.S. Department of Energy recently created an electric-powered replica of an iconic sports roadster. VOA’s George Putic has more.
Video

Video Al-Shabab Recruitment Drive Still on In Kenya

The al-Shabab militants that have long battled for control of Somalia also have recruited thousands of young people in Kenya, leaving many families disconsolate. Mohammed Yusuf recently visited the Kenyan town of Isiolo, and met with relatives of those recruited, as well as a many who have helped with the recruiting.
Video

Video A Small Oasis on Kabul's Outskirts Provides Relief From Security Tensions

When people in Kabul want to get away from the city and relax, many choose Qargha Lake, a small resort on the outskirts of Kabul. Ayesha Tanzeem visited and talked with people about the precious oasis.
Video

Video Kenyans Lament Losing Sons to al-Shabab

There is agony, fear and lost hope in the Kenyan town of Isiolo, a key target of a new al-Shabab recruitment drive. VOA's Mohammed Yusuf visits Isiolo to speak with families and at least one man who says he was a recruiter.
Video

Video Scientists Say Plankton More Important Than Previously Thought

Tiny ocean creatures called plankton are mostly thought of as food for whales and other large marine animals, but a four-year global study discovered, among other things, that plankton are a major source of oxygen on our planet. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Kenya’s Capital Sees Rise in Shisha Parlors

In Kenya, the smoking of shisha, a type of flavored tobacco, is the latest craze. Patrons are flocking to shisha parlors to smoke and socialize. But the practice can be addictive and harmful, though many dabblers may not realize the dangers, according to a new review. Lenny Ruvaga has more on the story for VOA from Nairobi, Kenya.

VOA Blogs