Google’s Accidental Share: How “Right to be Forgotten” is Being Used

Reporters uncover stats the search giant’s been reluctant to share

European courts have determined that the ability to remove Google search results is a matter of privacy, and although it’s been firmly contested in the U.S., the “right to be forgotten” has become a regular part of European law.

While Google has avoided making figures on removal requests public, The Guardian uncovered data within the source code of the search giant’s own transparency report that shed light on the goings-on thus far. A quote:

Of 218,320 requests to remove links between 29 May 2014 and 23 March 2015, 101,461 (46%) have been successfully delisted on individual name searches. Of these, 99,569 involve “private or personal information”.

Only 1,892 requests – less than 1% of the overall total – were successful for the four remaining issue types identified within Google’s source code: “serious crime” (728 requests), “public figure” (454), “political” (534) or “child protection” (176) – presumably because they concern victims, incidental witnesses, spent convictions, or the private lives of public persons.

In a statement, Google described the data discovered as “part of a test”, dismissing it as unreliable and promising more transparency in the future:

“We’ve always aimed to be as transparent as possible about our right to be forgotten decisions. The data the Guardian found in our Transparency Report’s source code does of course come from Google, but it was part of a test to figure out how we could best categorise requests. We discontinued that test in March because the data was not reliable enough for publication. We are however currently working on ways to improve our transparency reporting.”

While Google’s statement makes drawing conclusions a bit tenuous, the information’s release is raising questions about what percentage of requests are being made for valid reasons and how many are taking advantage of the system to keep (insert unsavory activity) under wraps.

The ability to have negative search results removed upon request is of massive interest to anyone whose reputation is at risk, and you’d better believe those of us Stateside are watching closely from across the pond to see how it works out.

Erik & Jonathan Bernstein
www.bernsteincrisismanagement.com

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