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Google getting plenty of right-to-be-forgotten requests, reveals examples

Google says that since the EU issued its controversial “right to be forgotten” ruling 18 months ago, it’s evaluated 1,234,092 URLs from 348,085 requests. That’s a lot of people asking to be forgotten.

It added that it’s removed search links to 42 percent of the webpages cited in the requests while retaining links to 58 percent.

The ruling, which came into effect in May last year, gives those living in Europe the opportunity to request the removal of links to webpages containing information deemed to be irrelevant, out of date, or inappropriate.

The sites often include negative or embarrassing information about an individual, but Google says it must “consider the rights of the individual as well as public interest in the content” before deciding whether to remove a link.

In a transparency report released this week, the Web giant revealed the top 10 domains from which it’s removed the most URLs from search results on its European search engines. Top of the pile is Facebook, with other high-profile sites and services like YouTube and Twitter also listed.

Decisions, decisions

Interestingly, the Mountain View company also included examples of the kinds of requests it receives and how it responded. Here’s a few of them:

Belgium: An individual who was convicted of a serious crime in the last five years but whose conviction was quashed on appeal asked us to remove an article about the incident. We removed the page from search results for the individual’s name.

Italy: We received multiple requests from a single individual who asked us to remove 20 links to recent articles about his arrest for financial crimes committed in a professional capacity. We did not remove the pages from search results.

UK: 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. We have removed the page from search results for his name.

UK: A media professional requested that we remove 4 links to articles reporting on embarrassing content he posted to the Internet. We did not remove the pages from search results.

The ruling has presented Google and other search engines with the challenge of finding a balance between protecting an individual’s privacy and the public’s right to access certain information.

Related: Facebook privacy lawsuit lands in Austria’s Supreme Court

News organizations are particularly unhappy with the situation, claiming it stifles free speech. Of course, it also means less traffic to their websites.

In an effort to combat the court’s decision, an increasing number of media outlets, including the Guardian, Telegraph, and Daily Mail, have been posting links to all of the news stories that Google has removed from its European search sites.

For those in Europe, the easy way around the issue is to search not from, say, google.co.uk, but instead from google.com, where all the links can still be found. Look out, though, as a French regulatory group has been fighting to change this, arguing that links should be removed from all search engines regardless of the Web user’s location.