Your Right To Be Forgotten: Removing Search Results From Google

internet privacy right to delete search results

In possibly the biggest news for Internet Privacy to date, a European Union court ruling earlier this month gave people the “right to be forgotten” on Google, allowing certain information to be requested to be removed from the search giants results.

In early May a Spanish man, Mario Costeja González, brought a case to the European Union’s Court of Justice after search results on Google relating to an auction notice regarding the repossession of his home for non-payment in 1998 resulted in him being refused a mortgage this year.

González stated that the information, which appeared prominently when searching for his name, should no longer appear since the matter was resolved and was no longer relevant.

The European judges made clear that under the current EU data protection directive, data that could “appear to be inadequate, irrelevant or no longer relevant or excessive … in the light of the time that had elapsed” could be removed by Google, deemed the “data controller”.

The ruling could give the go ahead for removal requests of embarrassing photographs and even insults on social media.

To be clear, the data itself is not being removed, simply the link to it within Google’s search results. And the law only applies within the European Union, so something removed from Google France does not have to be removed from Google in the USA or potentially even Google UK.

Additionally, while recent data shows that Google accounts for 66.7% of total web traffic, currently the same search data will be left residing on Microsoft or Yahoo search indexes. Although also bound by the ruling, they have yet to setup their removal request pages and have not yet given a date when they will have it available.

This doesn’t open the door for businesses to manipulate their search identities by removing any negative mention or review of their services either. The ruling affects EU citizens and Google has put together an online form for requests to be submitted. Requests must include links to the material they want removed, their country of origin, and a reason for their request, along with photo identity to stop fraudulent removal requests. It does however allow individuals within a company to request a removal, and this might include a business within the context of the article.

The scope is open to manipulation and Google will need to be extremely careful as they start to review and process requests. The link between businesses and their employees is intricate, a company director for example could attempt to have his association with a previously failed business removed. A thorough background search on him before a new appointment should show this, but a cursory Google search might no longer.

It might all be irrelevant however as initial data suggests that the sheer volume of requests may cause the system to fail. In the first day after the online form was available, there were around 12’000 requests received, the most coming from Germany with 4 out of every 10 submissions, XX Spain and the UK coming in second and third.

The BBC says it has learned that “more than half of the requests sent to Google from UK individuals involved convicted criminals” and the law regarding data protection might conflict with the law regarding registered sex offenders. Whatever happens this ruling will have a significant online impact for years to come.

This post was written by Rob Gordon, an IT geek, gadget lover and blogger. Rob has been using the internets since 1994 when the only streaming video was that coffee pot in Cambridge (rip).... Follow Rob on Twitter - @robgordon - about.me/robgordonuk