A report published recently states that, since the ‘right to be forgotten‘ act was passed in the EU in May 2014, Google has received request from more than 280,000 people to remove over 1 million links to pages.
Depending on your location you may, or may not have heard about the ‘right to be forgotten’ act passed in Europe last Spring. The European Court of Justice passed a rule which stated that the search giant has to remove links to sites or pages which have “inadequate, irrelevant or no longer relevant” information. It’s a highly controversial bill and coverage has stirred fears that those in power could essentially remove all traces of anything they don’t want to be remembered or seen.
Since the law was passed, El Goog has deleted 602,000 links from the web according to a report from The Daily Mail. One fifth of the requests came from France, where the search company has had requests to wipe a total of 197,000 links. In Britain, just over 35,000 requests were made for links to almost 140,000 pages be deleted. In the UK, 63 percent of those requests were accepted.
As for the kinds of requests being made, it seems many are from regular folk who want embarrassing information or posts removed from social networking or dating sites. Which is virtually harmless. On the other end of the scale, the Mail reports that it has had requests to remove content related to serious crimes that it has published in the past. And that’s where it gets a little troubling.
The UK’s Business Secretary Sajid Javid states:
Criminals are having their convictions airbrushed from history even if they have since committed other, similar crimes. Terrorists have ordered Google to cover up stories about their trials.
Although The Mail has something of a reputation for scaremongering with its articles in the UK, there is at least a hint of a warning here for Google. Recent reports claim that the controversial ‘right to be forgotten’ act could be making its way across the Atlantic to U.S. shores in the near future. If passed, it would force the search company to erase links from its .com domain too.
It is worth noting that this act doesn’t completely remove pages or stories, but rather links to those stories on Google. But it does make you wonder how much the system might be abused by those who really shouldn’t have their histories and articles buried.
Cases of people having their requests rejected or accepted can vary in severity. In a report published a little while back it can sometimes involved complex cases where international laws don’t match up. As an example:
A German national was convicted in the U.S. of a sex crime that occurred when he was 16 years old. The victim was two years younger than him. In the U.S., his name was published. Under German law, his name wouldn’t have been published because he was a minor.
As you’d expect, no case or request is easy to decide and on a few occasions those having their requests denied often end up appealing. In fact, European data protection authority WP29 is tasked with handling complaints about those denied requests. As revealed last month, almost 2,000 appeals have been made for denied requests. A report published by our own Tom Maxwell makes it clear that there’s still much fine-tuning to be done in regards to the entire process.
All criteria appear to be relevant and efficient in the context of delisting requests. However, some criteria might need to be refined in order to gain some more clarity. This is for example the case of the “role in public life” criteria. Data protection authorities will also need to reflect on how to assess to what extent a complaint is well-founded.. Moreover, they will have to specify at what point a piece of information can be considered as outdated and thus irrelevant.
Whether or not the act makes its way to the States, it’s clear this will prompt discussion, debate and controversy for some time yet.