Google releases info on millions of EU “right to be forgotten” requests

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Google has released info on millions of ‘right to be forgotten’ requests since 2014, in a transparency report that shows most stemming from private individuals. The 17-page document analyzes the requests made by European citizens who have asked the tech giant to delist URLs containing information that pertain to these people, citing their ‘right to be forgotten’ online privacy statute. These URLs mostly contain information regarding personal information or legal history.

In 2014, the European Court of Justice established that EU citizens have a right to be forgotten, meaning they have the ability to request Google to remove any information they deem disagreeable from search results. According to a blog post from Google, people can request that the search engine delist a page that they deem to be “inaccurate, inadequate, irrelevant, or excessive.” Once a petition has been submitted, search engine companies will then be required to decide whether they will comply with the request. The process of doing so can be a slippery slope, with close consideration needed to be taken into account as to whether the request complies with the individual’s right to privacy outweighs the public right to access the information.

Since the ruling by EU courts, Google has now had adequate data from requests to determine why people petition to have information delisted from search engines. With over 2.4 million requests, it is clear to see that people find the right to do so important. Another important aspect from the report also shows data detailing whether Google accepts or denies these petitions, and how long this process can take. The data in the report shows that 43 percent of requested URL’s have been delisted. Over 90 percent of the requests came from private individuals, with the remaining 11 percent split up between government officials, public officials, minors, and others.

“My biggest concern was are our processes doing the best that we can to respect individuals as well as minimize the impact that that would have to the flow of information,” said Michee Smith, product lead of the Google Transparency Report.

Google has said that the review process is evaluated on a case-by-case basis. They’ve said, “Determining whether content is in the public interest is complex and may mean considering many diverse factors, including—but not limited to—whether the content relates to the requester’s professional life, a past crime, political office, position in public life, or whether the content is self-authored content, consists of government documents, or is journalistic in nature.”

This power to essentially destroy public information is under heavy criticism, but the results of the report have shown that Google is able to maintain a balance between privacy and public good. Smith said, “I was happy to see that news and government sites were lower. Those are the sensitive things that when you think about the balance between privacy and the freedom of information, you really don’t want a lot of news sites being removed from your web search. And to see those numbers be lower really made me feel good about the process that we’ve put in place to handle these types of requests.”

While Europeans have gained the right to petition Google for the ‘right to be forgotten’, the concept does not apply to Americans. Our First Amendment rights protects freedom of speech, meaning that if a law like this was introduced, it would most likely be seen as form of censorship. Laws like this have a low probability of being passed in the United States, which is why we don’t have something similar to what they have in the EU. There has been a similar bill introduced in the New York State Legislature, but it is still in the process of being debated upon by lawmakers.

Avid writer and reader with a curious mind, I'm always looking to get the most out of life! Follow me on Twitter @whatsaschoon

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