EU wants Google to apply 'right to be forgotten' delistings to global .com domain

Google should start applying the European Union’s “right to be forgotten” to its global, .com domain, European privacy regulators say.

European data protection authorities in the so-called Article 29 Working Party (WP29) have compiled a set of guidelines detailing how search engines should apply a court ruling that gave Europeans the right to be forgotten by search engines. As of the May decision, EU citizens have the right to compel search engines to remove search results in Europe for queries that include their names if the results are “inadequate, irrelevant or no longer relevant, or excessive.”

However, it is not enough to only de-list search results on EU domains, the WP29 said in a news release Wednesday. In order to give full effect to a person’s rights as defined in the court’s ruling, link removals in search results should be extended to .com domains.

“Limiting de-listing to EU domains on the grounds that users tend to access search engines via their national domains cannot be considered a sufficient means to satisfactorily guarantee the rights” of a person according to the ruling, the group said. In practice, this means that in any case, de-listing should also be effective on all relevant .com domains in order to prevent circumvention of EU laws.

The guidelines, which have not yet been published in full, will probably cause a further escalation of the battle between privacy regulators and Google, as the search engine has so far refused to remove links on its .com domain.

Google has been removing links from all 28 EU country domains, as well as from the Google domains in Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway and Switzerland, countries belonging to the European Free Trade Association (EFTA). 

Links, however, are not removed from the international, .com domain, as it is clear to the company that other courts in other parts of the world wouldn’t have reached the same conclusion as the Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU), Google’s Global Privacy Council, Peter Fleischer, explained last week.

Whether Google will change its policy remains unclear. “We haven’t yet seen the Article 29 Working Party’s guidelines, but we will study them carefully when they’re published,” a Google spokesman said.

The WP29’s guidelines also contain a list of common criteria that data protection authorities will apply to handle complaints filed with national offices following refusals of de-listing by search engines. The list contains 13 main criteria that should be applied on a case-by-case basis, and aims to provide a flexible tool to help authorities to make the right decisions.

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