Turns out there are a lot of people who want the Internet to forget about them—whether they deserve it or not.
In May, a European court ruled that Google must remove “inadequate, irrelevant or no longer relevant” search results when an individual in the E.U., or potentially outside the region, asks it to. In a letter to European regulators, Google reported that as of July 18, it has received 91,000 requests to remove 328,000 URLs from search results under this newly created “right to be forgotten.”
It hasn’t gone entirely smoothly. In July, Google removed and then reinstated links to the Guardian’s website with no explanation.
What’s more, Google has run into some completely predictable issues with the court’s vague ruling. These include people who provide false or inaccurate information, or public figures who are seeking to remove information about themselves from the public record.
For instance, Google reports that “some professional journalists have asked us to remove articles that they wrote for a publication to which they are no longer connected.” More seriously:
Even if requesters provide us with accurate information, they understandably may avoid presenting facts that are not in their favour. As such, we may not become aware of relevant context that would speak in favour of preserving the accessibility of a search result. An example would be a request to remove an old article about a person being convicted of a number of crimes in their teenage years, which omits that the old article has its relevance renewed due to a recent article about that person being convicted for similar crimes as an adult. Or a requester may not disclose a role they play in public life, for which their previous reported activities or political positions are highly relevant.
France leads Europe with 17,500 “forget me” requests involving 58,000 URLs, followed by Germany with 16,500 requests involving 57,000 URLs and the UK with 12,000 requests involving 44,000 URLs. Google has removed 53% of the total requested URLs.
Balancing Privacy And Public Knowledge
It’s important to note that Google doesn’t delete the Web pages users ask for, just the links to them displayed in Google searches. So even if Google removes a link, it will still be available to view on the Web—it will just take some extra searching.
Google formed an advisory council intended to help it strike a balance between the “right to be forgotten” and the public’s right to know. In the meantime, Google is still facing a backlog of removal requests resulting from the ruling earlier this summer. The company says it’s working through them as fast as possible.
Lead image courtesy of Moyan Brenn on Flickr