EU panel calls for global ‘right to be forgotten’

A European Union privacy panel wants Google to expand the “right to be forgotten” to the rest of the globe.

A panel of privacy regulators on Wednesday called for the search engine to give Web users the power to have Google take down links to embarrassing or outdated content throughout the world, in a dramatic escalation of a court ruling earlier this year.

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The new guidelines are not binding, but they nonetheless increase pressure on Google and are sure to meet heavy opposition from transparency advocates.

“Under E.U. law, everyone has a right to data protection,” the panel said in a statement.

“[L]imiting de-listing to E.U. domains... cannot be considered a sufficient means to satisfactorily guarantee the rights of data subjects according to the ruling,” it added. “In practice, this means that in any case de-listing should also be effective on all relevant .com domains.”

In its May ruling the European Court of Justice ordered Google to remove links “inadequate, irrelevant or no longer relevant” websites, out of concern for people’s privacy. The ruling cemented what has become known as the “Right to be Forgotten.”

The links have so far only taken down on European versions of its search engine, however, such as France’s google.fr or Spain’s google.es. The European panel would expand that so that google.com is caught up in the practice.

It remains unclear whether the panel was also calling for Google to allow people around the globe to ask that links be taken down, or if it just wants the links already scrubbed from European versions to be removed from google.com as well.

A Google spokesperson said that the company has not yet been able to review the guidelines and declined to offer a response to them.

In the past, however, Google has resisted making the scheme global.

This summer, a top lawyer with the company told the privacy panel that company officials “do not read the [court's] decision... as global in reach — it was an application of European law that applies to services offered to Europeans.”

Fewer than 5 percent of Europeans use google.com, the company added, and most of those are likely to be traveling foreigners.

While some privacy advocates have cheered the European ruling earlier this year, news outlets and other transparency groups have criticized it. Already, links to some news articles have been removed from the search engine, which is used by about 90 percent of Europeans.

Last month, Google said that it had agreed to remove more than 170,000 websites from its search results, representing about 41 percent of the requests it had received.

Wednesday’s guidelines add to a bad week for Google in Europe. The European Parliament is expected to vote on Thursday on a nonbinding plan to call for the company to split its search engine services off from the rest of its offerings, out of antitrust concerns.