Google recently announced that search results blocked under the 'right to be forgotten' regime will not appear on any Google domain – including Google.com – when searches are made within Europe. This is a positive development for claimants, significantly extending the effect of the Google Spain ruling of 2013.
Applying the 'right to be forgotten'
Google's 'right to be forgotten' form is hard to locate, but once you've found it, the process is fairly straightforward. The form can be filled out online in a matter of minutes, by an individual or their legal representative. Individuals are required to list the URLs that they want to hide, and to explain why each URL contains irrelevant, excessive, or outdated personal information about them. There is a public interest test, making it particularly hard for those in the public domain, or those with criminal convictions, to succeed. Google usually replies within two months, either confirming the links have been hidden, or setting out the reasons why the request was rejected.
The effect of Google's announcement
The 'right to be forgotten' has, until now, only removed search results from Google domains in the EU, such as Google.uk or Google.fr. Google.com, however, would continue to show the 'forgotten' results. This proved to be a major hurdle for individuals who were trying to be 'forgotten', as many people within the EU use Google.com as their default search engine, despite the existence of country-specific domains.
Now, Google has announced it will be blocking the removed search results across all domains. This is a huge victory for those who have managed to have their personal data removed. Going forward, it will much harder to find information that has been blocked by Google - so long as those looking for it are in Europe too.
Google and the EU
Google has been under pressure from European data protection authorities to take this action for some time. The ICO has commented that it had already asked Google to make this change, while the French data protection authority (CNIL) threatened Google with a fine in September 2015 if they did not extend the effect of the removal to Google.com. According to CNIL, this change was necessary in order for the 'right to be forgotten' regime to be properly implemented, as the European Court of Justice intended.
Is data really hidden?
There is, of course, still a risk that users within the EU will change their VPN settings so that the search engine detects a non-EU IP address, allowing them to access blocked searches. This is a fairly straightforward process that would allow anyone trying to find specific information to circumvent EU data protection rules. However, this requires the user to know what they are looking for, rather than simply stumbling upon the information with a routine Google search.
Google announced that the change would take effect from mid-February, after which an increase in 'right to be forgotten' requests is likely.
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This publication is a general summary of the law. It should not replace legal advice tailored to your specific circumstances.
© Farrer & Co LLP, February 2016