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Google removes 359,803 URLs from searches under right to be forgotten laws

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Google has received 282,580 right to be forgotten requests and the search engine has evaluated 1,027,495 URLs for removal, the company said in its transparency report. The European Union passed the right to be forgotten laws in May 2014 which allows people have web pages containing false, misleading, or outdated information about them removed from web searches.

The transparency report showed that Google removed 41.3% of the URLs it evaluated from its searches, which translates to around 359,803 URLs. Google also showed the top ten domains they’ve removed the most URLs from search results. Note these top ten results represents only 8% of the URLs removed.

right to be forgotten

The high rate of approvals for the right to be forgotten requests has raised some concerns in Europe that criminals and former felons might abuse the laws designed to protect privacy.

However, Google says that it evaluates each request on a case-by-case basis and says that it will not remove information pertaining to public interest. From their FAQ section:

In evaluating a request, we will look at whether the results include outdated or inaccurate information about the person. We’ll also weigh whether or not there’s a public interest in the information remaining in our search results—for example, if it relates to financial scams, professional malpractice, criminal convictions or your public conduct as a government official (elected or unelected).

Our removals team has to look at each page individually and base decisions on the limited context provided by the requestor and the information on the webpage. Is it a news story? Does it relate to a criminal charge that resulted in a later conviction or was dismissed?

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Our take

MediaNama had  got a right to be forgotten request from an Indian user in June 2014. We declined the request as the right to be forgotten does not exist in India, and only applies to European countries; unless we are directed to remove content by an Indian court of law, we don’t need to, and we wont. Furthermore, the right to be forgotten laws only applies to search engines and not the URLs themselves.

But on a broader level it sets a bad precedent as many who deserve to be remembered will abuse privacy and libel and get URLs removed. In India, a good example of how libel laws are abused is in the case of Indian Institute of  Planning and Management (IIPM) got 73 URLs removed following a court order. Readers will note that the block also covered the University Grants Commission, wherein a notice from the UGC pointing towards the unrecognized status of IIPM has been ordered to be blocked.

The right to be forgotten along with courts which order the removal of URLs and pulping of books and publications, could do a lot of harm to media outlets, as these deny our ability to report and record history as we see it.

Image source: Flickr User Danard Vincente

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