Skip to main content

Filed under:

Google grapples with Europe's 'right to be forgotten'

Share this story

In 2012, a Spanish man went to court to request the removal of a Google search result. The man, who was protected by the European Union's "right to be forgotten" on the internet, wanted the removal of a link that pointed to an article about an auction for his foreclosed home. His case was referred to the European Court of Justice, which resulted in a landmark ruling by the EU that means that Google now has to allow individuals to request the removal of certain links from its search results. The 2014 ruling was designed to allow people the chance to omit "inadequate, irrelevant, or no longer relevant" links about themselves from search results, but Google has complained about its adoption, arguing it infringes on freedom of expression.

  • Adi Robertson

    Nov 25, 2015

    Adi Robertson

    Google 'right to be forgotten' requests keep piling up

    Europe's "right to be forgotten" rules remain a growing issue for Google. Today, the company released its twice-yearly transparency report, detailing the requests it's received for copyright takedowns, user data, and the removal of search results that point to inadequate or irrelevant information about a European citizen. Since the policy was put into place last May, Google reports that it's received 348,085 total requests to remove links, covering a total of 1,234,092 URLs. Around 42 percent of the links (excluding cases that are still pending) ended up being removed.

    These results represent a relatively steady increase since mid-2015, when Google last provided an update on link removals. In July, the company reported receiving around 280,000 requests and approving under half of them. Leaked information about an earlier data set showed that 95 percent of its cases were classified as requests to remove "private or personal information." That means only a small sliver involved things like details about public figures or a serious crime — both categories that have raised concerns about censoring relevant information, especially after one early decision purged links to news stories about public figures.

    Read Article >
  • Jacob Kastrenakes

    Aug 20, 2015

    Jacob Kastrenakes

    UK regulator orders Google to pull 'right to be forgotten' removal stories

    Google and European regulators continue to fight over which links ought to be removed under the controversial "right to be forgotten." In an order this week, regulators have taken issue over a decision by Google not to remove nine links, which the company argued were newsworthy. It's among the more complicated situations that have come up: the links are to articles about the right to be forgotten, but they reference a specific person who successfully had Google remove results about an old crime. Google says the results are of significant public importance and ought to be presented; regulators argue that they undermine the right to be forgotten by surfacing search results that aren't relevant to that person.

    The order comes from the UK's Information Commissioner’s Office, which has given Google 35 days to remove the results. Google does not appear to have replied to the order yet; it did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

    Read Article >
  • Adi Robertson

    Jul 30, 2015

    Adi Robertson

    Google rejects French request for broader 'right to be forgotten' rules

    Google is pushing back against a request to expand the scope of Europe's "right to be forgotten" law. Last year, the European Union Court of Justice ruled that citizens of its member states could ask Google to delist search results that were irrelevant, out of date, or fit a mix of similar criteria. Google, which says it's received 290,000 requests since the rule took effect, has responded by removing information from country-specific versions of Google across Europe. But last month, French data privacy agency CNIL requested that the rule apply across all Google search pages.

    "This is a troubling development that risks serious chilling effects on the web," writes Google senior policy counsel Peter Fleischer in a statement released today. The big question to Google isn't the right to be forgotten, it's what kind of jurisdiction individual countries should have over web services that spread across the globe. "There are innumerable examples around the world where content that is declared illegal under the laws of one country would be deemed legal in others," Fleischer continued, referencing Thailand's ban on insulting its king and Russia's restriction of "gay propaganda."

    Read Article >
  • Russell Brandom

    Jul 14, 2015

    Russell Brandom

    A new look at the people erasing themselves from Google Search

    With the "right to be forgotten" now firmly established in European law, hundreds of millions of people can now ask to be delisted by Google, effectively erasing themselves from Google Search. A new report from The Guardian digs into who has been using the new feature, using information accidentally revealed in the source code of Google's recent transparency report. The new data covers the 218,320 requests that were made between May 2014 and March 2015, roughly three-quarters of the total requests, slightly less than half of which (101,461) resulted in a successful delisting. The data has also been published on GitHub, and is open for deeper analysis.

    Google breaks the requests into five categories: private personal information, child protection, political requests, public figures, or serious crimes. The vast majority of requests (more than 95 percent) were for personal information, ranging from requests to delist a personal address to delisting a person's name entirely. By contrast, fewer than 200 child protection requests were received during the period. In a statement to The Guardian, Google emphasized that the codes were part of an internal project to categorize requests, which was ultimately deemed not reliable enough for public release.

    Read Article >
  • Chris Welch

    Jul 25, 2014

    Chris Welch

    Google has already hidden as many as 100,000 search results in Europe

    The "right to be forgotten" is already having a huge impact on Google's search results. Since the landmark May ruling, Google has removed "tens of thousands" of links — potentially over 100,000 — pertaining to Europeans who've filed to have that information hidden from web users. According to a Wall Street Journal source, 91,000 people have so far asked Google to pull down links for 328,000 URLs. But the company hasn't yet gotten around to processing all those requests.

    Of those it has, Google says it's removed results in over 50 percent of cases. That suggests Google is working in broad strokes as it responds to the European Union's controversial decision, which critics say has ushered in a new era of internet censorship. Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales recently joined that chorus, saying that Google shouldn't be "censoring history" with the decisions it's being forced to make. The company has demonstrated some discretion at times; Google told watchdog officials that it's asked for more details in 15 percent of cases processed to this point. Microsoft recently followed Google's lead with its own implementation of the right to be forgotten policy, so it will be interesting to see if there are any differences in how much content the competitors are willing to hide.

    Read Article >
  • Rich McCormick

    Jul 11, 2014

    Rich McCormick

    Google's top lawyer says EU's 'right to be forgotten' restricts freedom of expression

    Google's chief legal officer has explained why the company disagrees with the EU's recent ruling that people have the "right to be forgotten" by its search engine. Writing in The Guardian, David Drummond explains the search giant's problems with the judgement, saying that it contradicts the information on freedom of expression in the UN's Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and that the language used by the court means the removal of results comes after "very vague and subjective tests" as to whether the information is of public interest.

    Read Article >
  • Adi Robertson

    Jul 3, 2014

    Adi Robertson

    Google takes down links to British journalism under 'right to be forgotten' rule

    The "right to be forgotten," a rule handed down last month by the EU, is supposed to allow individuals to get "inadequate, irrelevant, or no longer relevant" results removed from Google Search. It was put in place after a Spanish citizen complained that searches for his name brought up a 1998 announcement that his house was being sold to cover social security debts. But now, The Guardian, the BBC, and others are reporting that it's being used to cover up embarrassing news stories. Yesterday, The Guardian's James Ball said Google notified him that six articles from the site were being purged from European versions of the search engine. Three of them relate to Dougie McDonald, a former Scottish soccer referee who resigned in 2010 after allegedly lying about a penalty kick.

    Read Article >
  • Jun 24, 2014

    Colin Lecher

    This site is trying to make Google forget you

    A controversial ruling from a European court recently granted people the so-called "right to be forgotten," forcing Google to remove some search links upon request. If you'd like a medium for sending such a request, will now step in, spiriting away everything about you.

    Read Article >
  • Chris Welch

    Jun 9, 2014

    Chris Welch

    Google may indicate when search has been censored over 'right to be forgotten'

    Google may be planning to alert users whenever search results have been wiped away thanks to a controversial European court ruling. That decision, handed down last month, has allowed Europeans to censor search by asking Google to pull down "irrelevant" and otherwise sensitive personal results. It's referred to as "the right to be forgotten," but Google seems to think web users also have a right to know when their search experience has been altered. If implemented, The Guardian says these notifications would resemble existing alerts that Google displays if results have been hidden in response to copyright complaints. Google could also shine a light on personal takedown requests in its transparency reports.

    Thus far Google has received over 40,000 requests to erase personal content. The company has developed a form where the public can send in requests to have results pulled, and it's also assembled an advisory committee that will oversee the effort to ensure the censorship isn't getting out of hand. Google CEO Larry Page has warned that the decision could ultimately harm innovation and be used "for bad things" by repressive governments.

    Read Article >
  • Chris Welch

    May 15, 2014

    Chris Welch

    Google already receiving demands to erase search results after controversial EU ruling

    Google users across Europe are already demanding that the company erase links about them from its search engine. According to BBC News, new takedown requests have already come in from a politician trying to shore up his image as he seeks re-election and "a man convicted of possessing child abuse images" has also asked that links pointing to pages about his case be wiped away.

    The Wall Street Journal notes that Hamburg, Germany is already seeing an uptick in attempts to cover up unflattering search results. Regulators there received eight requests just one day after a European court ruled that users have "the right to be forgotten" and can ask Google to pull down links leading to irrelevant or outdated content. Normally, Hamburg only sees 100 such requests in an entire year.

    Read Article >
  • Amar Toor

    Sep 5, 2013

    Amar Toor

    Google goes to court over sex party photos

    The former head of Formula One's governing body is taking Google to court over photos of a role-play sex party that surfaced online five years ago. The case opened on Wednesday in Paris, where lawyers for Max Mosley urged a panel of judges to force Google to remove all images of Mosley's sex party from its search results. As the Wall Street Journal reports, Mosley wants the search company to build software that would automatically block any pages containing the images —which he describes as a violation of his privacy — but Google has remained defiant, arguing that Mosley's demands would result in an "unprecedented new internet censorship tool."

    The case comes amid ongoing European Union debates over how to protect individuals' rights to online privacy, including the proposed "right to be forgotten". Photos of Mosley's kinky escapades were first published in 2008 by News Corp's News of the World tabloid, which described the event as a "sick Nazi orgy". Mosley won a £60,000 ($94,000) award that year from a UK court, which determined that the now-defunct tabloid violated his privacy, noting that there was no evidence of any Nazi-themed activities. He won a smaller award in 2011, when a French court ruled in his favor in a similar case.

    Read Article >
  • Matt Brian

    Jun 25, 2013

    Matt Brian

    EU court says Google doesn't have to delete sensitive data from search results (update)

    The Advocate General at the European Court of Justice has said that Google should not have to delete sensitive information from its search results. In a statement published today, EU adviser Niilo Jääskinen said that while Google must comply with local data protection laws, it doesn't need to remove sensitive information that is lawfully produced by a third party. It shows that in some cases, protecting freedom of speech might overrule rights to privacy. Google is already facing fines in both France and Spain if it doesn't amend its privacy policy.

    Read Article >
  • Ryan Heise

    Mar 30, 2012

    Ryan Heise

    Vint Cerf comes down hard on the EU's proposed 'right to be forgotten' policy

    While Vint Cerf is in the UK attending the launch of the Life Online, a museum exhibit that celebrates the origins of the internet, he's taking the time to voice his concern over what he sees as a threat to the connected world. Cerf, who is often credited as the father of the internet, tells The Telegraph that the European Union's proposed "right to be forgotten" policy is unachievable, citing how easy it is for people to copy information from the internet to their computers, and then re-upload it later. He also notes that our world is already based on the idea that once something is published — a book or a newspaper, for instance — it can't easily be retracted. Cerf believes this should hold true for digital content, and he equates enacting a law like "right to be forgotten" to breaking into someone's home to remove a physical object.

    Read Article >
  • T.C. Sottek

    Mar 5, 2012

    T.C. Sottek

    Spain challenges Google with 'right to be forgotten' in EU

    Google tells Reuters that "we support the right to be forgotten, and we think that there are ways to apply it to intermediaries like search engines in a way that protects both the right to privacy and the right to free expression" — but there are philosophical differences in the way these rights are interpreted internationally, which could complicate the regulatory playing field for Google and other indexers. EU commissioner for justice and fundamental rights, Viviane Reding, has proposed right to be forgotten rules to the European Parliament. Reding says that "if an individual no longer wants his personal data to be processed or stored by a data controller, and if there is no legitimate reason for keeping it, the data should be removed from their system," but she also notes that there are cases where the right to be forgotten is not absolute, like in newspaper archives.

    Read Article >