Google announced in a February 26 report that it has received 2.4 million requests for URL removals from its search engine under the European Union’s “right to be forgotten” law, which went into effect in 2014. The Court of Justice for the EU ruled at that time that individuals have the right to ask search engines to remove certain results tied to a person’s name.
According to Google, the company has received 655,487 requests to delist 2,440,084 URLs since May 29, 2014. In January 2016, Google’s reviewers began “manually annotating each URL submitted to us with additional information,” according to the report. When granted, delisted URLs no longer appear in Google’s European search results. In addition, the company “uses geolocation signals to restrict access to the URLs from the country of the requestor,” Google said.
The “right to be forgotten” law requires search engines to comply with the requests if the links in question are “inadequate, irrelevant or no longer relevant, or excessive.” They’re also required to take into account “public-interest factors including the individual’s role in public life.” The URLs in question are only delisted from results “in response to queries that relate to an individual’s name.”
More than half (56.7 percent) of requests were denied by Google. “We assess each request on a case-by-case basis,” Google explained. “We have carefully developed criteria in alignment with the Article 29 Working Party’s guidelines. After a request is submitted to us via our webform it undergoes a manual review. Once we reach a decision, the individual will receive an email notifying him or her of our decision and, if we do not delist the URL, a brief explanation.”
The company lists a few common factors involved in the decision not to deslit URLs, including “the existence of alternative solutions, technical reasons, or duplicate URLs.” Google may also determine that information contained on the page is strongly in the public interest. “Determining whether content is in the public interest is complex and may mean considering many diverse factors, including—but not limited to—whether the content relates to the requester’s professional life, a past crime, political office, position in public life, or whether the content is self-authored content, consists of government documents, or is journalistic in nature,” said Google.
In the report, Google shared the breakdown of types of content appearing on URLs requested to be delisted, sorted by the type of site.
The types of requests varied and included:
- A request from the Austrian Data Protection Authority on behalf of an Austrian businessman and former politician to delist 22 URLs, including reputable news sources and a government record, from Google Search.
- Google did not delist the URLs given his former status as a public figure, his position of prominence in his current profession, and the nature of the URLs in question.
- A request from the Belgian Data Protection Authority to delist 5 URLs from Google Search that describe an incident where the perpetrator violently attacked a victim. The perpetrator was convicted.
- Google delisted 3 URLs that no longer contained the perpetrator’s name but refused to delist 2 that did.
- A request from the wife of a deceased individual in Finland to delist a forum page from Google Search that alleges the deceased individual committed several sex crimes. The request was to remove the deceased individual’s name.
- Google delisted the URL under Finnish data protection law.
- The CEO of an online business in France requested the delisting from Google Search of social media pages and news articles discussing his website, claiming they contained personal data and invaded his privacy. He requested removal of his name as well as the company’s name.
- Google delisted 1 URL under the requester’s personal name, not the name of his company, as the personal name no longer appeared on the page. We did not delist the remaining 2 URLs.
The domains from which Google delisted the most URLs are Annuaire, a directory in France (7,711), Facebook (6,860), Instagram (6,313), Twitter (5,483), Google Plus (3,318), and YouTube (3,304). About a third of the requests related to social media and directory services and around 20 percent were related to news outlets and government websites that disclosed individuals’ legal histories.
Google says the company hopes that the data in their report will help inform the ongoing discussion about the “interplay between the right to privacy and the right to access lawful information online.”