Google bombarded by half a million link deletion requests under ‘right to be forgotten’ ruling
Search engine juggernaut Google has allegedly received a staggering 144,000 requests from various website owners to “forget” nearly 500,000 links, on the grounds of the recent & controversial introduction of the ‘right to be forgotten’ into EU legislation.
The requests follow a ruling made by the European Court of Justice (ECJ) in May that all search engine operators must delete links related to European citizens, if they can be construed to contain redundant or extraneous personal data.
The ruling has garnered widespread criticism for undermining the principle of a free media, with Google in particular displaying their outrage over the ECJ’s decision, calling it a “disappointing ruling for search engines and online publishers in general.”
And this discontent looks to have been reflected in the contents of the company’s most recent transparency documents, which have indicated that they have only authorised the deletion of 170,000 links – or 41.8% of requested removals – as the battle between European legislators and Google representatives continues to rage on.
This means that a monumental 237,000 links which were requested to be deleted have been retained by Google, despite the legitimate grounds for ‘right to be forgotten’ to be used, and suggests a fractious future between the internet’s major organisations and European Authorities.
The report also outlined that the largest volume of removal requests in Europe had come from French individuals, with a total of 28,912 requests made to remove around 90,000 links.
Germany came in at second, with 24,979 unique requests for the removal of nearly 89,000 links, whilst the UK populace made 18,403 requests for the deletion of 64,000 links, at a success rate of 64.6%.
Google’s report also cited 15 examples of the type of deletion requests they had been looking at, as well as the decision they made in each case.
One cited request from an individual in the UK which was rejected read: “An individual asked us to remove links to articles on the internet that reference his dismissal for sexual crimes committed on the job.
“We did not remove the pages from search results.”
A successful removal request made from a British source read: “A man asked that we remove a link to a news summary of a local magistrate’s decisions that included the man’s guilty verdict.
“Under the UK Rehabilitation of Offenders Act, this conviction has been spent. The pages have been removed from search results for his name.”
In another cited example, Google removed links to material which contained name references of people who had been victims of crime.
A German case read: “A victim of rape asked us to remove a link to a newspaper article about the crime.
“The page has been removed from search results for the individual’s name.”
Both Facebook and YouTube were forced to remove 3,332 and 2,392 links respectively, as the social media sites of the globe were also hit by the impact of the recent ruling.
A representative of Google confirmed that the ‘right to be forgotten’ section of their transparency report would be updated on a day-to-day basis, and re-asserted that every unique deletion request was evaluated by a real person, rather than a machine.
What is the ‘right to be forgotten’?
For anyone who is unfamiliar with what the ‘right to be forgotten’ legislation consists of, it grants, as specified in the proposals devised for its implementation by policymakers back in 2012, individuals the right to “determine the development of their life in an autonomous way, without being perpetually or periodically stigmatized as a consequence of a specific action performed in the past.”
Its introduction into European law has been pushed for since 2012, when the initial proposal for its integration was designed and forwarded by the European Commission for policymaker’s consideration.
However, complaints from a number of online service suppliers and a plethora of technology firms over the logistics of actually implementing the law into reality, and binding all online authorities to it unless they have ‘legitimate’ grounds to do so, had stunted its introduction.
That was until May this year, when the ECJ ruled that a Spanish man, Mario Costeja Gonzalez, had the right to have links to a previous newspaper article about him removed, after he complained about the continued accessibility of a reference from 16 years ago about him owing money from a property sale.
Gonzalez argued that the continued existence of the link online when his name was searched served to damage his reputation – long after the issue had been resolved, and motioned for its deletion under the grounds of ‘right to be forgotten’.
And the legal precedent required to officially legitimise the law was established after the ECJ ruled in favour of Gonzalez, with court officials in Luxembourg identifying that people now had the right to request that their personal data references are deleted from online sources if they are deemed to be “inadequate, irrelevant or no longer relevant”.
The EU Justice Commissioner, Viviane Reding, praised the court’s verdict as a “clear victory for the protection of personal data of Europeans”.
“The ruling confirms the need to bring today’s data protection rules from the “digital stone age” into today’s modern computing world,” she said.
However, the general consensus about the ruling from inhabitants of the various sovereign states in Europe has been one of negativity towards the ruling, with various politicians and consumer groups raising concerns over its promulgation of media censorship.
“We need to take into account individuals’ right to privacy but if search engines are forced to remove links to legitimate content that is already in the public domain but not the content itself, it could lead to online censorship,” said Javier Ruiz, policy director at Open Rights Group.
“This case has major implications for all kinds of internet intermediaries, not just search engines.”
Campaign group Index on Censorship damned the ruling, arguing that it “violates the fundamental principles of freedom of expression”.
“It allows individuals to complain to search engines about information they do not like with no legal oversight,” it said.
“This is akin to marching into a library and forcing it to pulp books.”
And the UK Ministry of Justice also criticised the ruling arguing that the law “raises unrealistic and unfair expectations”.
Google itself rejected the notion that it misuses and controls personal information, countering that it merely provides links to publically accessible data across the ‘net. Instead, forcing the company to remove links to such information constitutes censorship of the highest order, the search engine operator has argued.
It seems at present that a war between the EU and Google is inevitable, with the ruling celebrated by the latter and hugely criticised by the American supernova.
The reality is that the ruling could have far wider consequences than first expected, and could already be applying unexpected ramifications to any of the internet’s publishers who have ever released negative content about another party on their domains.
Will everyone eventually be able to have any past article about them stripped away from existence if they simply don’t like it? This could be possible – particularly when the initial ruling outlined that the individual rights of a complainant are imperative when it comes to usage of their personal information.
Google, having held off the introduction of the law for so long, is understandably enraged by its application onto their search engine. But at present, it doesn’t seem like the global giants are able to do absolutely anything to stop it.
Read through our previous article on Google challenging the ‘right to be forgotten ruling’ here