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to discuss the implementation of the landmark ruling from Europe's top court upholding people's right to request that outdated links be removed from Internet search results.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

Disappointing Report on China's Economy Shakes Markets

In London and New York shares lost 3 percent, while Paris and Germany dropped around 2.4 percent More

DRC Tries Mega-Farms to Feed Population

Park at Boukanga Lonzo currently has 5,000 hectares under cultivation, crops stretching as far as eye can see, and is start of ambitious large-scale agriculture plan More

Video War, Drought Threaten Iraq's Marshlands

Areas are spawning ground for Gulf fisheries, a resting place for migrating wildfowl, source of livelihood for fishermen and herders who have called the marshes home for generations More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Nobel Prize Winner Malala Talks to VOAi
X
August 31, 2015 2:17 AM
Nobel Peace Prize winner Malala Yousafzai met with VOA's Deewa service in Washington Sunday to talk about women’s rights and unveil a trailer for her new documentary. VOA's Katherine Gypson has more.
Video

Video Nobel Prize Winner Malala Talks to VOA

Nobel Peace Prize winner Malala Yousafzai met with VOA's Deewa service in Washington Sunday to talk about women’s rights and unveil a trailer for her new documentary. VOA's Katherine Gypson has more.
Video

Video War, Drought Threaten Iraq's Marshlands

Iraq's southern wetlands are in crisis. These areas are the spawning ground for Gulf fisheries, a resting place for migrating wildfowl, and source of livelihood for fishermen and herders. Faith Lapidus has more.
Video

Video Colombians Flee Venezuela as Border Crisis Escalates

Hundreds of Colombians have fled Venezuela since last week, amid an escalating border crisis between the two countries. Last week, Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro ordered the closure of a key border crossing after smugglers injured three Venezuelan soldiers and a civilian. The president also ordered the deportation of Colombians who are in Venezuela illegally. Zlatica Hoke reports.
Video

Video Rebuilding New Orleans' Music Scene

Ten years after Hurricane Katrina inundated New Orleans, threatening to wash away its vibrant musical heritage along with its neighborhoods, the beat goes on. As Bronwyn Benito and Faith Lapidus report, a Musicians' Village is preserving the city's unique sound.
Video

Video In Russia, Auto Industry in Tailspin

Industry insiders say country relies too heavily on imports as inflation cuts too many consumers out of the market. Daniel Schearf has more from Moscow.
Video

Video Scientist Calls Use of Fetal Tissue in Medical Research Essential

An anti-abortion group responsible for secret recordings of workers at a women's health care organization claims the workers shown are offering baby parts for sale, a charge the organization strongly denies. While the selling of fetal tissue is against the law in the United States, abortion and the use of donated fetal tissue for medical research are both legal. VOA’s Julie Taboh reports.
Video

Video Next to Iran, Climate at Forefront of Obama Agenda

President Barack Obama this week announced new initiatives aimed at making it easier for Americans to access renewable energy sources such as solar and wind. Obama is not slowing down when it comes to pushing through climate change measures, an issue he says is the greatest threat to the country’s national security. VOA correspondent Aru Pande has more from the White House.
Video

Video Arctic Draws International Competition for Oil

A new geopolitical “Great Game” is underway in earth’s northernmost region, the Arctic, where Russia has claimed a large area for resource development and President Barack Obama recently approved Shell Oil Company’s test-drilling project in an area under U.S. control. Greg Flakus reports.
Video

Video Philippine Maritime Police: Chinese Fishermen a Threat to Country’s Security

China and the Philippines both claim maritime rights in the South China Sea.  That includes the right to fish in those waters. Jason Strother reports on how the Philippines is catching Chinese nationals it says are illegal poachers. He has the story from Palawan province.
Video

Video China's Spratly Island Building Said to Light Up the Night 'Like A City'

Southeast Asian countries claim China has illegally seized territory in the Spratly islands. It is especially a concern for a Philippine mayor who says Beijing is occupying parts of his municipality. Jason Strother reports from the capital of Palawan province, Puerto Princesa.
Video

Video Ages-old Ice Reveals Secrets of Climate Change

Ice caps don't just exist at the world's poles. There are also tropical ice caps, and the largest sits atop the Peruvian Andes - but it is melting, quickly, and may be gone within the next 20 years. George Putic reports scientists are now rushing to take samples to get at the valuable information about climate change locked in the ice.

VOA Blogs