Google has revealed which countries have made the most requests for links to be removed from search results under Europe's new "right to be forgotten".
The European Union in May enshrined in law the individual's "right to be forgotten" with a ruling that anyone could request to have themselves removed from search engine results. All search engines have to comply with the rules, but Google has been the most public subject.
In a letter to the EU published today, Google has made public its process for delisting links when asked by the subject of contested articles, pictures or other online postings. The letter, signed by Google Global Privacy Counsel Peter Fleischer, explains how the system works and what privacy measures are in place.
Google says 5,500 requests have been made under Dutch law, 7,500 under Italian law, and 8,000 under Spanish law. The UK has seen 12,000 requests referring to around 44,000 URLs, while Germany comes in second with 16,500 requests in reference to around 57,000 URLs.
The country with the most requests is France. 17,500 requests have been made under French law, involving around 58,000 URLs.
Of all the requests made across Europe, 53 per cent have been delisted as requested. 32 percent of requests have been denied and the search results remained available, while the remainder have seen Google request more information from the requester.
After an individual fills in the online form with details of the search terms they want excised, each request is evaluated individually by people at Google, which required a "significant hiring effort." Guided by a panel of independent experts including Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales, they evaluate "whether the search results in question include outdated or irrelevant information about the data subject, as well as whether there's a public interest in the information."
For example, Google might support someone wanting to remove links to reports of their wrongful arrest. But it might decide the public should be able to still access information about a convicted criminal attempting to whitewash his or her unsavoury past.
Links are delisted from Google search, image search and Google News. Only Google's search results for the specified search term are altered -- not the news stories, blog posts and other online postings themselves. They can still be found by searching for other search terms or by using other versions of Google -- using Google.com instead of Google.co.uk, for instance.
Search results that have had links removed also provide a warning notice that some results have been left out. The whole process is similar to the process by which copyrights holders -- movie studios and record labels, for example -- can request that links to copyright-infringing sites be removed. Flagging a potential problem for the new system, Google claims that more than half of requests over copyright are actually made by competitors of the site being targeted.
Google also notes that it notifies the publisher of the posting that is being left out of search results, but says that it does not give any information about who has requested the delisting.
The processes may change as time goes on. "Our approach will not be static," says Fleischer. "We know it will change over time as data protection authorities and courts issue guidance and as we all learn through experience."
Perhaps somewhat comically, Google says it has received requests by fax, letter and email. Some of those making requests have simply requested all links mentioning their name be removed, failing to notice that some of the links they've submitted are actually about someone else with the same name.
It is worth noting that Google doesn't want to be burdened with this regulation. The Big G claims this is a form of censorship , but probably more pertinently it's a serious commitment of time and effort. As such, Google may well talk up the problems with the system.