In a matter that has frustrated both individuals and open internet advocates, Google is slowly making its way through the mountain of requests that have flooded their offices since the EU ruled earlier this year on the Right to Be Forgotten. The ruling gives citizens the right to request certain webpages be removed from linking to them through search engines if the information is false or outdated. Under some countries’ laws, the request process actually allows for guilty individuals to have mentions of their crimes removed if enough time has passed and the sentence has been fulfilled.
Since the spring ruling, Google has already removed more than 170,000 links to pages that contain content that users found associated with them, which was almost 42% of the requests submitted. Of those requests, the majority of pages removed came from Facebook, while other social media sites including Profile Engine and YouTube followed closely behind.
Interestingly, Google has been put in the precarious position of playing judge and jury in this situation, as users submit requests for page removal and then Google is tasked with deciding if the page link should come down. Requests are either approved or denied based on employees’ perceptions of the content as it pertains to the individual’s request.
As for being a time consuming process, that doesn’t even scratch the surface. Across the EU, close to 150,000 people have submitted requests to have a total of almost 500,000 webpage links removed. Those pages have to be carefully scrutinized and then judged as to whether or not they should come down. In an interesting twist, the page doesn’t disappear entirely, but is instead replaced with a message that the content was removed under the Right to Be Forgotten law, which really only tells future viewers that something on that page was at one point incriminating. Moreover, the content doesn’t necessarily come down either, but instead no longer links back to the individual’s name for search purposes.
According to an article for CNBC, one individual in Italy submitted requests for around twenty links that gave details about his arrest, and his requests were denied; a different individual from Germany submitted requests for around fifty links that gave details of an embarrassing public incident, and those requests were approved. An article from The Guardian also described how a doctor has requested links to news of malpractice accusations be removed; some of the requests which were approved and some were left standing.
Opponents of this measure have cited censorship concerns, while supporters have pointed out that the “nothing is ever deleted from the internet” nature of online information creates a world where no one can ever move on from their mistakes. In truth, a generation ago, a convicted individual who served out his sentence could at least expect to be able to move on with a fresh start, but that’s not quite as feasible in today’s climate of online data storage. Either way, with an average of 1,000 requests per day coming in from across Europe, the process won’t get faster any time soon.