Over half of “requests to be forgotten” refused by Google

The Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU) issued in May 2014 a groundbreaking decision for online privacy rights in Google Inc. v. Agencia Espanola de Proteccion de Datos under which European Union citizens have the right to require the erasure of inadequate, irrelevant or outdated information from search engines. This decision further concluded that Google has an obligation to remove such data from its Internet search results (I have already blogged about this decision a few weeks ago). Europeans can use Google online form to file a search removal request.

What is the status of these requests four months after this CJEU decision? It was recently estimated by Reputation VIP that Google refuses approximately 59% of the removal requests it receives.

On what grounds is Google refusing these requests?

It is estimated that Google has refused to de-index:

  • links to pages containing sensitive material pertaining to the professional life of the user who made the request (26% of refusals);
  • links which were created by the applicant making the request (22%);
  • links pertaining to news or other content of public interest (14%);
  • links to social networking profiles (13%).

A recent article from the New Yorker explains that to decide whether to remove the disputed links from its searches, Google had to assemble a large team of lawyers and others to review the submissions. The main considerations which will be taken into account by Google is whether or not the individual is a public figure, whether the link comes from a reputable news source or government Web site, whether the request is made by an individual who was the one who originally published the information, and finally, whether the information relates to political speech or criminal charges. The article further provides clear exemples of the type of requests which have been either accepted or refused by Google:

Google agreed to what it termed a “request to remove an old document posted in an online group conversation that the requestor started,” and a “request to remove five-year-old stories about exoneration in a child porn case.” The company rejected a request from a “news outlet to remove content about it from another news outlet”; a “request from a public official to remove a news article about child pornography accusations”; and a “request for removal of a news article about a child abuse scandal, which resulted in a conviction.” The company declined, for the time being, to remove a 2013 link to a report of an acquittal in a criminal case, on the ground that it was very recent. Google also declined a request by a writer to remove links to his own work, on the ground that the articles were recent and deliberately made public by the author.

While in Europe, the right to privacy trumps freedom of speech, the reverse is true in the U.S., as reflected in the First Amendment. Public reaction to the CJEU decision, especially in the United States, has been largely critical, while in Europe, in a recent meeting in Brussels, the Article 29 Working Party examined whether Google had gone far enough in complying with the CJEU decision. In Canada, many have raised their concerns with the CJEU decision, more specifically on the risk of such a right on censorship and freedom of information.

This content has been updated on September 22, 2014 at 20 h 13 min.