Bing joins Google in accepting ‘right to be forgotten’ requests from European users


Following Google's lead, Microsoft's Bing search engine appears to be gearing up to implement the "right to be forgotten" for European users.  (Ted S. Warren/AP)

Microsoft's Bing search engine is taking its first steps to implement the so-called "right to be forgotten" for European users: People who want to have information about themselves removed from online search results can now submit a request to block searches through a four-part Web form.

In May, the European Union's top court ruled individuals have a right to request the removal of Internet search results, including their names, that are "inadequate, irrelevant or no longer relevant, or excessive."

But the court left the implementation of the decision up to tech companies -- putting them in the somewhat uncomfortable position making the call about what information may be important to the public. When search engines strip a result from their records, it remains hosted in its original location online but is potentially much harder to discover.

The Bing online form notes that making a request does not guarantee the service will block a search result. Instead, the information submitted will help the company "consider the balance between your individual privacy interest and the public interest in protecting free expression and the free availability of information, consistent with European law." Microsoft did not immediately return a request for comment.

Search giant Google launched a form for requests to block search results after the May ruling, which it opposed, and started removing them in late June. In a recent column published by the Guardian, Google Chief Legal Officer David Drummond said the company has received more than 70,000 take-down requests covering 250,000 Web pages since May. Among the requests were some stories from the Guardian, which the search giant later reinstated after a public outcry.

"The examples we've seen so far highlight the difficult value judgments search engines and European society now face: former politicians wanting posts removed that criticise their policies in office; serious, violent criminals asking for articles about their crimes to be deleted; bad reviews for professionals like architects and teachers; comments that people have written themselves (and now regret)," Drummond wrote in the Guardian, adding "no search engine has an instant or perfect answer."

The Wall Street journal reported Thursday that E.U. privacy regulators are set to meet with Google, Microsoft and Yahoo about the right to be forgotten next week. Yahoo has yet to start accepting requests.

Andrea Peterson covers technology policy for The Washington Post, with an emphasis on cybersecurity, consumer privacy, transparency, surveillance and open government.
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Andrea Peterson · July 17