Google Faces Data Chiefs’ Right-to-Be-Forgotten Backlash

Google Inc. faces criticism this week from European Union privacy regulators seeking to rein in the way it’s been cutting search links in response to a court ruling on the right to be forgotten.

Data privacy watchdogs meet in Brussels today and tomorrow to try to agree on a road map for how Google should handle requests from citizens who want links to websites pulled. The world’s biggest search-engine company has come under fire for telling websites about removals, with officials saying it may draw more attention to the personal information someone is seeking to hide.

Regulators “are particularly puzzled by the announcement of notifications given by Google to the webmasters of sites where removals are requested,” said Gerard Lommel, the head of Luxembourg’s data-protection authority. Officials also query Google’s decision not to remove links on google.com searches made in Europe and several initiatives to publish lists of websites affected by removals.

The EU’s 28 national data-protection authorities have been working on the guidelines that “will specify how Internet search engines should respond to requests and how they may or may not communicate on removals that have been made,” said Elsa Trochet-Mace, a spokeswoman for France’s CNIL, which heads the EU group of regulators. The guidelines may be ready as soon as this week, she said.

This week’s meeting will be “important,” Lommel said in an e-mail. “We expect to take a position on such questions the general public is waiting for.”

Outdated Information

The world’s largest search provider was ordered by an EU court in May to pull links in search results on a person’s name on request if the information was outdated or irrelevant. Privacy regulators were told by the court to deal with complaints about Google’s decisions.

Google “didn’t ask to be the decision maker” on deletions, company Chairman Eric Schmidt said last week. Google, which opposes the EU judgment, wants to stoke a wider debate as EU lawmakers and governments finalize new data-protection rules that define the right to be forgotten. The company is holding several public hearings across Europe to discuss the implications of the ruling.

Al Verney, a spokesman for Google in Brussels, didn’t immediately respond to an e-mail seeking comment.

Some 120,000 requests have been made to Google for it to cut links, affecting 457,000 Internet addresses as of Sept. 1, Verney said last week.

The Mountain View, California-based company publishes a notice on most searches on a person’s name to warn that results may have been redacted -- even if they haven’t been. Newspapers in the U.K. have published reports about notifications they’ve received that reprint details of the original story that someone wants removed from search results.

When Google removes a link, it does so across all its European websites but not its U.S.-based google.com site. Google.com gets fewer than 5 percent of user searches in Europe, the European Commission has said.

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