One Year On: 'Right To Be Forgotten' Still Divisive

John Lister's picture

Google has revealed that it rejects the majority of complaints it gets from users asking for embarrassing or false content to be removed from its search results. It seems to be getting most decisions "right," but there's still concern about the process.

The issue involves a ruling by the European Union of Justice, which handles those laws that apply across 28 countries in Europe. It affects any search engine that offers results to European users, even if the search engine or the sites it lists are based elsewhere.

The "right to be forgotten" ruling involves cases where users have asked a website to remove content about them, usually because the content is negative. It stems from a case where a Spanish man wanted the removal of a 16-year-old newspaper article about his house being repossessed.

Web Pages Removed From Search Results

If a website refuses to remove a page or ignores a removal request, the request can then be forwarded to search engines. In turn, search engines are required to stop showing the page predominantly - and only when European users carry out a search.

It's up to the search engine how to handle the complaint, though guidelines say it should take into account how old the information is, and whether the person is a public figure. If the search engine refuses the request, the issue can be taken to court.

With it now one year since the ruling took effect, Google has calculated that it has received a total of 254,271 requests covering 922,638 pages. Of those, it agreed to remove 58.7 percent of the pages and rejected the remaining 41.3 percent. (Source:

Criminals Get Thumbs Down From Google

Google has published some examples of the cases it has handled and the way it decided them.

Generally it upholds cases where the person has done nothing wrong, such as a woman who asked for pages listing her address to be removed, or a man who wanted pages detailing criminal accusations against him to be removed because he was later cleared. Cases it rejected included several instances of people asking for the removal of pages with details of serious crimes they had committed.

For the most part, the decisions seem to have been fair and reasonable. A British data regulator looked at cases and found only 48 where it disagrees with Google's conclusion.

There is still a big debate about the future of the process, however. Critics argue that it's unfair that firms like Google should have the responsibility and power of deciding which pages stay online or are effectively buried. Meanwhile, European officials want Google and company to extend the process and remove the affected pages from its results worldwide, not just in Europe - but, Google has outright rejected this idea. (Source:

What's Your Opinion?

Should web pages be removed from search engine results if they contain embarrassing and negative information, even though it's true? Is it fair to ask search engines like Google to make the decision? How should the Internet community balance the rights to privacy and to free speech?

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guitardogg's picture

Why is it the responsibility of the search engines to police the internet? If a site is posting something that it shouldn't, that site needs to remove the pages, end of story. That's like blaming the paperboy when a newspaper gets the facts wrong! We all know that there is a tremendous amount of crap on the web. Just like there is a tremendous amount of false and damaging information on TV and in printed media. That is the double-edged sword of free speech. Sure, blocking at the search engine level is convenient, so I get why the EU wants it, but it is just not right. And at the end of the day, those pages are still out there anyway.