Google index privacy gets thumbs-up but publishers decry "abusive" search

Google faces good news and bad in Europe this week, with potential vindication over what personal data it can index but vocal rejection of its proposed concessions around equality in search. The search giant has been facing attacks from multiple directions in recent months, with the EC investigating whether it contravened privacy laws or acted in an anti-competitive manner over search results and how data from rival companies is indexed and presented. Good news on one front has coincided with bad news from another.

At issue in the privacy case is whether Google should be able to gather publicly available information, with users in France and Spain arguing that it infringes their personal rights to have such data included in the company's index. Several requests for information – gathered during crawling of public sources, such as local newspapers – to be deleted from the index have been made by users in Europe.

However, European Union privacy adviser Advocate General Niilo Jaaskinen says, Google shouldn't be held accountable. "Requesting search engine service providers to suppress legitimate and legal information that has entered the public domain would entail an interference with the freedom of expression" he wrote in a statement on the case.

'This is a good opinion for free expression" Google spokesperson Bill Echikson told Reuters, though it remains to be seen whether the EU court will agree with Jaaskinen. A decision is expected before the end of the year, and it's common for courts to side with the Advocate General's opinion.

However, there's bad news on other fronts. Google had been hoping that its voluntary concessions – which include highlighting which search results are pushed from its own services, and flagging up content from rival providers – would meet with approval and allow it to escape censure, but the complaints have come thick and fast. Even as soon as Google made them, arguments that they were insufficient were being made, but now the European Publishers' Council has weighed in as well.

In a statement from the organization – which represents hundreds of international and local publishers including News International, Thomson Reuters, and Guardian Media Group, TechCrunch reports – Google's proposals are described as potentially more dangerous than the current system. For instance, the suggestion that its own links be more clearly labeled to highlight what content is coming from Google itself is being seen as a disadvantage.

"Publishers say that this will mislead consumers into thinking these [highlighted results] were somehow tailor made results to their search queries and interests, thereby causing even greater harm to competition" the Council says.

Google, meanwhile, argues that it is focused solely on giving its users the best results, and dismisses the criticisms by rivals as being made in their own self-interest rather than for the good of actual users. "Our proposals are meaningful and comprehensive, providing additional choice and information while also leaving room for future innovation" senior VP and general counsel Kent Walker said this week. "As we've always said, we build Google for users, not websites. And we don't want to hamper the very innovations that people like best about Google's services."