Following in Google's footsteps, Microsoft is letting Europeans ask to have pages forever nixed from online search results. Bing is implementing “the right to be forgotten” ruling after a landmark court decision in May that forced the hands of search engine providers.
Google was first out with a removal request form in May. The company reports that over 70,000 people have asked for take downs of 250,000 Web pages in the wake of the Court of Justice of the European Union ruling. Microsoft’s market share is not as large, but the company seems prepared for a rush of requests in with the court ruling.
“We encourage you to provide complete and relevant information for each applicable question on this form. We will use the information that you provide to evaluate your request,” Microsoft said in a statement. “We may also consider other sources of information beyond this form to verify or supplement the information you provide.”
Microsoft went on to say that the information entered 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.”
The bottom line: making a request does not guarantee that any given search result will be blocked. Meanwhile, Google is taking a similar stance and David Drummond, the search engine giant’s chief legal officer, is speaking out about its experience with the 70,000 requests the company is processing.
Drummond said the examples Google has seen so far highlight the difficult value judgments search engines and European society now face. He offered examples such as former politicians wanting posts removed that criticize 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. In each case someone wants the information hidden, he said in an op-ed published in The Guardian, while others might argue that it should be out in the open.
“When it comes to determining what's in the public interest, we're taking into account a number of factors. These include whether the information relates to a politician, celebrity or other public figure; if the material comes from a reputable news source, and how recent it is; whether it involves political speech; questions of professional conduct that might be relevant to consumers; the involvement of criminal convictions that are not yet "spent"; and if the information is being published by a government,” Drummond said. “But these will always be difficult and debatable judgments.”
Learning From Google
We caught up with Greg Sterling, principal analyst at Sterling Market Intelligence, to get his take on the topic. He told us this is Microsoft’s effort to comply with the new European rule surrounding a right to be removed from search results: the "right to be forgotten."
As he sees it, Microsoft’s move obviously follows considerable focus on and controversy surrounding Google in its effort to deal with the new rule. He reiterated there are no decision criteria mentioned on the form by Microsoft for making any removal decisions other than balancing the request against the public interest and "free availability of information."
“Microsoft says that making a request doesn't guarantee that it will be granted,” Sterling said. “The European Court decision was based on the notion that the information sought to be removed was outdated and no longer relevant. Microsoft's form appears to invite anyone to make a request to be removed from search results regardless of the rationale.”