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A year after Google introduced its controversial ‘right to be forgotten’ feature following a European Union ruling, the search giant has published some statistics about its implementation, in its latest transparency report.
The ruling allowed Google users in Europe to request that results for their name which are “inadequate, irrelevant, no longer relevant, or excessive” be removed from the search engine results.“For each of these requests, we’re required to weigh, on a case-by-case basis, an individual’s right to be forgotten with the public’s right to information,” Google explains on its Advisory Council page.
It turns out that, to date, Google has received 925,586 URLs from 255,143 requests for removal. Of those, the company has refused 58.7 percent.
The search results prompting the removal requests cover a broad range of content, from online bullying and serious crime records to embarrassing photographs and personal information.
The transparency report includes 23 case studies, giving an insight into how Google’s judgement works. In one instance, a British ‘public official’ requested a link to a student petition demanding his removal be scrubbed from the search results, which Google turned down.
In another instance, an Italian crime victim requested the removal of three links which discussed the decades old crime. A search for her name will no longer produce the discussion.
In some instances, Google seems to have taken a compromising approach where some, but not all, of the links are removed from the search results. The search engine cites an example where a doctor requested over 50 newspaper articles about a botched procedure be removed. In the end, Google removed just three of them – the ones that mentioned the doctor by name, but did not mention the procedure.
It’s important to note that, according to Google’s own FAQs, these controversial pages aren’t removed from the search results entirely, just for searches of the named individuals. As Google puts it, “if we granted a request to remove an article for John Smith about his trip to Paris, we would not show the result for queries relating to [john smith] but we would show it for a query like [trip to paris].”
Interestingly, half of the top 10 sites cited could be classed as social media of some kind, with Facebook (6,853 URLs removed), Google Groups (4,001), YouTube (3,951), Google Plus (2,870) and Twitter (2,578) all featuring. The remaining sites listed are Profile Engine (6,078), Badoo (3,657), Yasni (2,673), Wherevent (2,616) and 192.com (2,575). It should be added that between them, these sites account for just eight percent of the total, however.
The majority of users who sought to use the right to be forgotten ruling were from France, Germany and the UK, PC World notes.
Author Alan Martin, ESET