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Simon Wadsworth

How has Google implemented the right to be forgotten?

Posted by May 31, 2016
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In May 2014, the EU Court of Justice handed down a ruling which required Google to introduce a ‘right to be forgotten’ for European search engine users. Two years have now passed since this landmark ruling, so how has Google implemented the right to be forgotten?

Right to be forgotten

The right to be forgotten allows people to ask for “inaccurate, inadequate, irrelevant or excessive” information to be removed from Google search rankings for their name.

This has led to the suggestion that the right to be forgotten allows people to manage how they are perceived online. In other words, it provides the means to potentially challenge and remove inaccurate and unsubstantiated content from the Google search rankings.

Search Engine Land reports that since May 2014, 1.4 million URLs have been removed from Google search results, with roughly 43% of right to be forgotten submissions proving successful. Google has now moved to tighten right to be forgotten guidelines, to prevent users from manipulating them for their own ends. Google will not remove irrelevant and/or outdated links if the information listed is of public interest without a court order.

Application worldwide

Google has rolled out the right to be forgotten across Europe. According to the Guardian, this will eventually include Google.com searches, which were previously excluded. Let’s look, for example, at the recent ‘celebrity threesome’ scandal. The parties involved took out an injunction to prevent UK newspapers from reporting the details. If a UK-based user searches for these details via Google.co.uk, they will not find them.

There is currently a discrepancy between information which can accessed by those within and outside the EU. For instance, although details of the celebrity threesome are blocked in the EU, Google has not blocked them in the US, Australia or Japan. Furthermore recently, French privacy regulator the Commission Nationale de l’informatique et des Libertés (CNIL) ruled against Google for resist implementing the right to be forgotten in France.

Submitting an application

Google aims to organise information so it can present users with the most relevant information when they perform a search. Therefore despite some resistance, from Google, the right to be forgotten has somewhat allowed individuals and companies to rehabilitate their reputations online.

To submit a right to be forgotten request, users are required to complete a form and submit it to Google. Users need to include the relevant search term i.e. their name, the complete web address of the link they wish to be removed and an EU passport or driving license as proof of identity. They also need to state the reason why they feel the information ‘irrelevant’, ‘outdated’ or ‘not in the public interest’ under the right to be forgotten within a thousand word character limit.

The ruling’s impact

Two years on, the right to be forgotten has had a major, if uneven impact. In some cases, it has provided individuals with the means to remove irrelevant or outdated information from Google search results, so it does not damage their reputation online.

However in many cases involving public figures and media-related stories, Google maintains that this content is still of public interest. In these instances, Google has refrained from applying the right to be forgotten to search results.  Google has also continued to resist implementing the right to be forgotten comprehensively i.e. adopting different policies across worldwide regions, which limits its usefulness as an online reputation management tool.

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