Google starts scrubbing searches under EU's 'right to be forgotten'

Across much of Europe, people embarrassed by certain search results can prod Google and other search engines to clean things up.

Don Reisinger
CNET contributor Don Reisinger is a technology columnist who has covered everything from HDTVs to computers to Flowbee Haircut Systems. Besides his work with CNET, Don's work has been featured in a variety of other publications including PC World and a host of Ziff-Davis publications.
Don Reisinger
3 min read


Google has started to remove certain search results in the European Union in compliance with the region's "right to be forgotten" initiative.

The company told the Wall Street Journal that it began removing search results on Thursday, after engineers modified the search engine's technical infrastructure to cull through the massive amount of data on the service and scrub all mention of certain topics.

The European Union Court of Justice last month made a landmark ruling when it ordered Google to allow people to request that it remove search results that they might find damaging to their person or just embarrassing. The individuals have a right to privacy that extends to Internet searches, and and therefore search engines much take the steps to review and, when appropriate, remove those undesirable search results, the court said.

Google fought hard to prevent the law from being enacted. The company has argued for the years it has taken to get to this point that it does not control the information that goes out on different sites around the Web. Google has said that the original publisher should bear the burden of removing content, and only then will it be automatically removed from Google search results.

Google's defense was brought up in several cases brought against the company, including most notably one from former Formula 1 chief Max Mosley, who had appeared in salacious pictures posted to the Web. For years, he had been trying to get those images removed, and the "right to be forgotten" (PDF) initiative should allow him to achieve just that.

The first cases on the matter date back to 2011, when owners of homes that were repossessed felt that their privacy was being infringed as results showed their past financial troubles years later.

Just a few weeks after the ruling, Google created an online form for concerned users to ask to have information taken down. The process for Google is long and arduous, if nothing else. The company receives a complain, must assess it under the court's ruling that items can be removed if they're "inadequate, irrelevant or no longer relevant, or excessive in relation to the purposes for which they were processed." If Google deems results fall into that category, they will be removed. If Google decides against it, however, the company must notify the requester, who then can head back to court to force Google to make the change.

According to the Journal, Google has received over 41,000 requests for removal. The company hasn't said how many of those items have been removed.

Although the ruling requires all search companies, including Yahoo and others, to comply, Google, as the far and away leader in search in Europe, has taken the brunt of the ruling.

In addition to scrubbing some search results, Google has added a new message at the bottom of its pages, telling searchers that some results may have been removed in cooperation with the EU's ruling. That statement is placed on all searches related to individuals or certain events, according to the Journal's sources.

CNET has contacted Google for comment. We will update this story when we have more information.