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Google 'right to be forgotten' requests keep piling up

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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.

The most popular domains include social networks and "people search" sites

According to this latest transparency report, requests cover a wide variety of sources. The top ten domains account for 9 percent of the requests. The most common sites were Facebook and Profile Engine, a search engine that trawls Facebook for personal information — the two topped last year's lists as well. Overall, the most popular targets are a combination of "people search" sites like Profile Engine or 192.com, the Google-owned services YouTube and Google+, and other social networks like Twitter and Badoo — a friend-finding site that's been criticized for loose privacy standards and spam.

Google appends examples of granted and non-granted requests to its report. It removed links to a personal photo from the search results for an Italian woman's name, but declined to scrub articles that reported on embarrassing statements made by a UK "media professional." While it's so far complied with "right to be forgotten" rules, Google is still clashing with European governments over their scope — including whether the policy should extend to non-European versions of Google Search. And while the examples help define what it will and won't remove, the internet at large — not just Google — still hasn't decided what constitutes public and private life online.