The Right to be Forgotten: big steps forward, small steps back?

If you made a successful ‘right to be forgotten’ request to Google in the UK, the outcome would be that the URL you complained of would no longer appear in search results through the search engine. However, by simply using the .com version of the browser instead, that outcome would be neatly sidestepped: the offending URL would appear in the search list against your name, unaffected by your exercise of your right to be forgotten.

Google has announced today that, as requested by the ICO among others, it will change that practice and introduce consistency across the versions of its browser. This means that, if you use Google in the UK, a ‘delisted’ URL will not appear in the list of search results, regardless of which version of the browser you use. Fans of the right to be forgotten will see this as a big step forward in terms of more comprehensive privacy protection.

The ICO issued an Enforcement Notice to achieve the same ends on 20 August 2015 (which was varied in October) in relation to a right to be forgotten case. Google lodged an appeal against that Notice. It is not yet clear whether Google intends to proceed with that appeal in the light of its change of stance.

Panopticon‘s Timothy Pitt-Payne QC and Christopher Knight are acting for the ICO defending the appeal.

They may, however, notice that (arguably smaller) backward steps continue to surface. It was reported last week, for example, that Pink News is publishing some of the stories which have been delisted by Google in response to the approximately 380 thousand requests it has received since the Google Spain judgment. Pink News is not alone in continuing to object to the right to be forgotten as an infringement of press freedom.

Forward steps for privacy, backward steps for press freedom: the debate continues. It will intensify as the brave new world of the General Data Protection Regulation gathers pace.

Robin Hopkins @hopkinsrobin