Google hit by more than 144,000 'right to be forgotten' requests

The search giant has approved about 42 percent of the requests, which have been streaming in since May 29.

Lance Whitney Contributing Writer
Lance Whitney is a freelance technology writer and trainer and a former IT professional. He's written for Time, CNET, PCMag, and several other publications. He's the author of two tech books--one on Windows and another on LinkedIn.
Lance Whitney
3 min read

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European users eager to remove traces of themselves on the Web have kept Google busy with requests to take down links to specific search results.

In its latest Transparency report, Google said Friday that it has received a total of 144,907 "right to be forgotten" requests since the process began May 29. Those requests themselves encompass 497,507 different webpages. Among the nearly 500,000 page links asked to be taken down, the company has so far removed 170,506 (41.8 percent) and declined to remove 237,561 (58.2 percent).

The process that's kept Google busy stems from a May ruling by the European Union Court of Justice that came to be known as the "right to be forgotten." As part of the ruling, Europeans can ask Google and other search engines to remove links to search results if they believe that such results contain information that might affect their privacy or that is simply no longer relevant or valid for some reason.

Google criticized the May decision, calling it a "disappointing ruling for search engines and online publishers in general." But the search giant has been forced to comply, even posting an online form that disgruntled users can fill out to request that certain search result links about themselves be removed. The process has been a challenging one, forcing Google to not only grapple with a huge number of requests but to determine which ones should be granted.

Google has no control over the actual online content published and posted by third-party sources. As a result, the ruling requires the company to simply remove any search result links to the content. But the content itself remains alive unless removed by the publisher or other third party.

The decision affects only Europe. France has seen the most activity so far with 28,898 removal requests. Germany takes second place with 24,979 requests, followed by the UK with 18,304, Spain with 13,316, and Italy with 11,379.

Among the domains most affected, Facebook took the top spot with 3,331 individual URLs removed. A site called Profileengine.com, which allows you to search for people, came in second with 3,287 URLs taken down.

Also on the most active list was social network Badoo.com with 2,198 URLs remove. Google's own YouTube and Google Groups sites have received a large number of requests as well, but those sites have their own processes to directly remove content, Google said Friday in a blog post.

Google's report provided examples of some of the takedown requests it has received and how it resolved them.

In one request, a woman asked that a link to her name be removed from an old article about her husband's murder since it included her name. Google complied with that request. In another, a financial professional wanted the removal of links to pages about his arrest and conviction for financial crimes. Google did not comply with that request. In a third example, a rape victim asked that a link to a newspaper article about the crime be taken down, a request that Google granted. And in a fourth case, a person wanted the removal of links to an online article about his dismissal for sexual crimes committed while on the job. Google did not comply with that request.

Deciding which links to take down and which ones to leave up can be challenging. But based on the above examples and others listed by Google, one factor that seems to play into the decision is whether the request comes from someone accused of or convicted or a crime or someone who is a victim or innocent party in a crime or case of wrongdoing.

Though Google makes the decisions on which individual requests to honor, the company has also formed an advisory council, which discusses and debates the entire process. Google, which is hosting a series of meetings across Europe on the "right to be forgotten," has invited Europeans to weigh in with their comments on the ruling via an online form.