When the European Union first put the "right to be forgotten" into effect, it didn't really give search sites much help. Should search listings disappear simply because they're embarrassing? What if you're a notable figure? At last, though, there are some clearer answers. The European Commission has published guidelines that tell search providers how to handle your takedown requests. For the most part, the recommendations line up with what Google has been doing so far. Websites have to balance your privacy demands against the public's rights; a search firm can pull details of your personal life, for instance, but it can refuse to hide criminal convictions or your official work record.
However, there are some areas where companies might run into trouble. The EU isn't happy with Google's tendency to warn both users and site operators when it honors a takedown. There's "no legal basis" for this, the Commission says. It's not certain that Google and others are breaking data protection laws in the process, but it's clear that regulators aren't happy that these alerts draw more attention to a person (Barbra Streisand-style) who was trying to keep their information a secret. Also, officials want delistings to apply to all web domains Europeans can access, not just regional ones like .co.uk or .fr -- sites can't "cheat" and give the uncensored results on a .com page.
No matter how well they stick, the guidelines are at least very timely. Forget.me has confirmed that Microsoft's Bing engine is now processing "right to be forgotten" requests. The company tells The Next Web that it's still "refining" its approach, but it's using the new EU advice as its template. In other words, Bing is likely to be considerably stealthier when it yanks content, and it may pull that content from more places.