The “Right to be Forgotten” (RTBF) is a landmark European ruling that establishes a right to privacy that governs and regulates how one can delist their personal information from online search results. Individuals can request that search engines, such as Google, delist URLS from across the Internet which contain “inaccurate, inadequate, irrelevant or excessive” information. What makes this ruling unique and challenging is that it requires search engines to decide whether an individual’s right to privacy outweighs the public’s right to access lawful information when delisting URLs.
Since the inception of the RTBF ruling in May 2014, Google has received 2,436,905 requests from Europeans for delisting URLs from Google Search. Approximately 43% of those requests have been delisted. In Germany alone, Google has received 413,824 requests to delist a URL, of which, about 48% requests have been granted. Each delisting decision requires careful consideration in order to achieve the right balance between respecting user privacy and ensuring open access to information via Google Search. In cases where delisting was denied, Google cites common factors in their decisions such as the existence of alternative solutions, technical reasons, or duplicate URLs. They may also determine whether a webpage contains information which is strongly in the public interest.
89% of requesters were private individuals, the default label when no other special category applies. Of the remaining 11%, minors accounted for 40%, corporate entities and government officials made up 21% each. 14% of the requests originated from non-governmental personalities, such as celebrities, leaving the remaining 4% representing miscellaneous persons. The top 1,000 requesters (0.25% of individuals with RTBF requests) are responsible for about 15% of the requests. Many of these frequent requesters are not individuals themselves, but law firms and reputation management services representing individuals.
The two dominant intents behind th RTBF delisting requests are removing personal information and removing legal history. Breaking down removal request by site type revealed that 31% of the requested URLs related to social media and directory services containing personal information, while 21% of the URLs requested related to news outlets and government websites that in a majority of cases cover the requester’s legal history. The remaining 48% of requested URLs cover a broad diversity of content on the Internet. While content related to personal information makes up the largest demographic of requests only 16.7% of those requests are granted. Many of these requests pertained to information that was directly relevant or connected to the requester’s current profession and therefore was therefore in the public interest to be indexed by Google Search.
The way the RTBF is exercised through Europe varies by country depending on regional attitudes toward privacy, local laws and media norms. Notably citizens of France and Germany frequently requested delisting of social media and directory pages, whereas requesters from Italy and the UK were three times more likely to target news sites. For all European counties the most targeted website for delisting was Facebook. In Germany, other top websites requested for delisting include peoplecheck.de, www.yasni.de, linksunten.indymedia.org, www.vebidoo.de, and YouTube.