Microsoft gears up to open 'right to be forgotten' request form

Microsoft is moving closer to launching a form which could see it flooded with requests to de-link search results.
Written by Liam Tung, Contributing Writer

Microsoft says it will soon launch a web form, similar to the one used by Google, to allow Europeans to request certain results don't appear when their names are searched for.

Not many people in Europe use Microsoft's Bing for search, but since it operates in Europe, it's going to need to comply with a ruling by Europe's highest court. Handed down in May, the decision stipulated European residents could request certain irrelevant or outdated results not appear in connection with searches for their name. It's then down to the search engine to decide whether or not a particular link should then disappear from searches, even though the content it linked to remains online and findable though other search terms.

With the ruling related to a complaint about results in Google, and it controlling 92 percent of search in Europe, the company not surprisingly made the first move to comply with the order.

At the end of May, it launched a web form to handle EU de-linking requests and in doing so opened the door to a flood of demands that, at last count, had reached 70,000. The volume of requests, which must be assessed individually, has prompted the company to hire a team of paralegals to deal with the load.

Microsoft said it will follow suit with its own 'right to be forgotten' form, but hasn't said when or how it will implement its overall scheme for handling them.

"We're continuing to work out the details on how we plan to implement the recent ruling by the European Court of Justice and expect to launch a form soon for EU residents to submit requests," a Microsoft spokesman said in a statement.

According to the New York Times, Microsoft doesn't know when it will release the form because it needs to coordinate with Yahoo, whose search is powered by Bing.

Complicating matters for search engine operators is that there isn't yet any official guidance for how they're supposed to handle the requests or decide which links are outdated or irrelevant beyond the general public interest test, such as whether it relates to financial scams, professional malpractice, criminal convictions, or the public conduct of government officials.

As Google's chief legal counsel David Drummond argued today in an opinion piece today on The Guardian, it's dealing with very vague and subjective tests when assessing the validity of requests.

Microsoft is yet to reveal whether it will also follow Google's recent decision to display a message that "some results may have been removed under data protection law in Europe" when a search for any name is performed on its European domains, such as google.co.uk or google.es.

Google has also notified several publishers, including BBC and The Guardian, of articles that it's de-linked due to a 'right to be forgotten' request, some of which it has subsequently restored.

While Google has received 70,000 individual take down requests, that's amounted to 250,000 web pages. "So we now have a team of people reviewing each application individually, in most cases with limited information and almost no context," he wrote.

"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). In each case someone wants the information hidden, while others might argue that it should be out in the open," he added. 

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