How Google implements the Right To Be Forgotten
Who is asking Google to delist certain URLs appearing in search results related to their name, and what kind of requests does the search giant honor?
The company has been keeping track of them since the “Right to be Forgotten” privacy ruling has been put into practice by the European Union, and since January 2016 the company’s reviewers have been manually annotating each requested URL with additional category data, including category of site, type of content on page, and requesting entity.
“Together with the data that we have previously published about the Right To Be Forgotten, the new data allowed us to conduct an extensive analysis of how Europe’s right to be forgotten is being used, and how Google is implementing the European Court’s decision,” noted Elie Bursztein, leader of Google’s anti-abuse research team.
Number of delisting requests
The data showed that since the ruling came into effect (May 2014) up to February 2018, Google has received some 2.4 millions URLs delisting requests, and 43% of these URLs ended up being delisted.
Also, 89% of requesters were private individuals:
Interestingly, the top 1,000 requesters (0.25% of individuals filing RTBF requests) were responsible for 15% of the requests.
“Many of these frequent requesters are in fact not individuals themselves, but law firms and reputation management services representing individuals,” Bursztein noted.
The data collected since January 2016 showed that the two dominant intents behind the Right To Be Forgotten delisting requests are removing personal information and removing legal history.
It showed that way the RTBF is exercised through Europe varies by country, as its influenced by regional attitudes toward privacy, local laws, and media norms. Also, the great majority (77%) of the RTBF requests target local content.
How Google approaches each request
Google assess each request on a case-by-case basis and, if they decide not to delist the URL, the requester will receive an explanation why they decided not to.
“A few common material factors involved in decisions not to delist pages include the existence of alternative solutions, technical reasons, or duplicate URLs. We may also determine that the page contains information which is strongly in the public interest,” the company explained.
“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.”
Examples from last year
Here are a few examples (all from 2017):
Google received a request to delist four URLs from Google Search, including a government webpage containing records of a court case. The requester was listed as a victim of sexual abuse and human trafficking and the case occurred when the individual was a minor. Google delisted all four URLs.
The company received a request to delist dozens of recent, reputable news articles regarding the conviction of an individual for rape, including video footage of the victim. Given the articles’ recency and the severity of the crime, Google decided not to delist the content.
A man from the UK who was convicted of benefits fraud in 2012 asked Google to delist nearly 300 articles related to the conviction based on a document he provided suggesting he was later found innocent of the crime.
The company delisted 293 of the URLs, but after the requester asked them to delist several other pages related to his separate conviction for forging documents, Google re-reviewed the original document he submitted as proof of his innocence in the benefits case, and discovered that it was a forgery. So, they reinstated all of the URLs they had previously delisted.
Many more examples can be found in the latest update of Google’s Transparency Report.