The Free Internet Project

Google tells EU regulators of problems in implementing "right to be forgotten" requests

After losing a landmark decision before the Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU) in May 2014 (Google Spain v. Costeja, C-131/12), Google has begun enforcing the controversial EU right to be forgotten.  Under the right that is recognized in EU countries, people in the EU may request search engines such as Google to remove links to web pages describing them (presumably in an unflattering way) after a certain period of time.  For example, imagine that a Google search for your name resulted in the first entry being an old article about your arrest for drunk driving as a teenager.  Since the decision, Google has received over 90,000 requests from Europeans to remove links from search terms involving people's names.  Google honored 53% of those requests, rejected 32%, and asked for more information for 15%.  

  • Around 17,500 requests have been made under French law (as chosen by the requester in the webform), involving around 58,000 URLs. 
  • Around 16,500 requests have been made under German law, involving around 57,000 URLs. 
  • Around 12,000 requests have been made under UK law, involving around 44,000 URLs. 
  • Around 8,000 requests have been made under Spanish law, involving around 27,000 URLs. 
  • Around 7,500 requests have been made under Italian law, involving around 28,000 URLs. 
  • Around 5,5000 requests have been made under Dutch law, involving around 21,000 URLs. 

On its Europe blog, Google published its answers to questions that EU regulators asked regarding the right to be forgotten.  Google states that it interprets the CJEU decision to be "an application of European law that applies to services offered to Europeans," but not to residents of other countries.  Google delists the search terms involving names for the European version of Google (such as Google.it for Google Italy), but not for Google.com.  Google says fewer than 5% of Google.com users come from the EU.

Google notes the difficult of determining whether to delist a search term.  "We must balance the privacy rights of the individual with interests that speak in favour of the accessibility of information including the public’s interest to access to information, as well as the webmaster’s right to distribute information. When evaluating requests, we will look at whether the search results in question include outdated or irrelevant information about the data subject, as well as whether there’s a public interest in the information."

One difficulty is trying to accommodate the interest of the website whose link has been delisted on Google. As Google explains, "We have already started receiving complaints from webmasters about the removal of links to their sites, and we already face challenges from publishers about removal decisions that result in reduced traffic to their sites. The notice to webmasters both ensures transparency and makes corrections possible when a removal proves to be a mistake. We have received information from webmasters that has caused us to reevaluate removals and reinstate search results. Such feedback from webmasters enables us to conduct a more balanced weighing of rights, thereby improving our decision-making process and the outcome for search users and webmasters."