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Adapting our approach to the European right to be forgotten

In the last few weeks, it has been widely reported that we will adapt our approach to delisting search results under the “right to be forgotten” in Europe, in response to discussions with regulators. We’ll be implementing the change next week.

The right to be forgotten — or, more accurately, the “right to delist” — was established by the Court of Justice of the European Union in 2014. It allows Europeans to ask search engines to delist certain links from the set of search results generated by a search query for their name.

At the moment, if someone submits a URL for delisting via our webform and we determine that their request meets the criteria set by the Court (the information to be delisted must be inadequate, irrelevant, no longer relevant or excessive, and not in the public interest), then we will delist the URL from the search results generated in response to a search for their name. Our current practice is to delist from all European versions of Google Search (like google.de, google.fr, google.co.uk, etc) simultaneously.

Starting next week, in addition to our existing practice, we will also use geolocation signals (like IP addresses) to restrict access to the delisted URL on all Google Search domains, including google.com, when accessed from the country of the person requesting the removal. We’ll apply the change retrospectively, to all delistings that we have already done under the European Court ruling.

So for example, let’s say we delist a URL as a result of a request from John Smith in the United Kingdom. Users in the UK would not see the URL in search results for queries containing [john smith] when searching on any Google Search domain, including google.com. Users outside of the UK could see the URL in search results when they search for [john smith] on any non-European Google Search domain.

We’re changing our approach as a result of specific discussions that we’ve had with EU data protection regulators in recent months. We believe that this additional layer of delisting enables us to provide the enhanced protections that European regulators ask us for, while also upholding the rights of people in other countries to access lawfully published information.

Since May 2014, we’ve worked hard to find the right balance as we implement the European Court’s ruling. Despite occasional disagreements, we’ve maintained a collaborative dialogue with data protection authorities throughout. We’re committed to continuing to work in this way.