How Google applies Europe’s Right to Be Forgotten

Five years ago, after a landmark ruling of the Court of Justice of the European Union, Google began receiving, evaluating and acting upon requests to delist certain URLs appearing in search results.

In those five years, Google received some 3.2 million requests to delist URLs, from approximately 502,000 requesters, and decided to delist 45% of those URLs.

Balancing individual privacy and public interest

“Each delisting decision requires careful consideration of the balance between respecting user privacy and ensuring open access to information via Google Search,” noted Elie Bursztein, who leads Google’s security and anti-abuse research team.

It shouldn’t come as a surprise, then, that requests asking for the delisting of pages containing information on political activities and professional wrongdoing (this includes negative reviews) are fulfilled at a much lower rate than requests concerning personal and sensitive personal information:

Google delist URLs

Interestingly enough, almost a quarter of all requests are for the delisting of pages containing professional information, but those often go unfulfilled.

Google delist URLs

“The relatively low rate for requested professional information delistings (20.7%) is best explained by the fact that many of those requests pertain to information that is directly relevant or connected to the requester’s current profession, and is therefore in the public interest to be indexed by Google Search,” Bursztein explained.

Other interesting findings

Google’s analysis also revealed that:

  • After an initial delisting request frenzy during the first year after the ruling, the number of delisting requests has stabilized at about 47,000 per month.
  • Initially, it took Google 85 days (on average) to decide whether to honor a delisting request or not. In 2019, that number fell to 6 days.
  • Most requests are submitted by private individuals (84%).
  • The top 10,000 requesters are responsible for 34% of the URL delisting requests.
  • The news, government, social media, and directory sites are most frequently targeted for delisting.
  • Internet users in some European countries take more advantage of the Right to Be Forgotten that those in others. The reasons for this disparity? Differences in attitudes towards privacy, media norms, and (likely) knowledge of the RTBF process. Also, RTBF requests mostly target local content.

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