Europe’s right-to-be-forgotten (RTBF) regulations went into effect May 30 and, according to the AFP news agency (Agence France-Presse), by July 3 Google had received nearly 70,000 requests to remove links to content on some of the world’s largest news sites.
BBC News Business Economics Editor Richard Preston announced to readers on July 2 that BBC had received notice from the search giant that it would no longer be able to show a blog Preston wrote in 2007 in response to certain searches on European versions of Google. There was no additional information provided, including why the link was no longer going to be available via the search engine. After some sleuthing, Preston discovered that the removal was prompted not by the person who was the subject of the news item but by a reader who had commented on it and no longer wanted his comment to be visible.
The U.K.’s The Guardian also said it had received notices that six of its articles would no longer be included in European search results. A few days later, some of the links were restored, a clear indicator that Google is refining its processes.
In the meantime, European users conducting Internet searches using Google and other search engines may not receive a complete list of references. That doesn’t necessarily mean the content no longer exists or is unavailable, however. Apparently, the restrictions may relate only to certain search terms. So, the item may still exist and, if so, will continue to show up in search results on the U.S. version of Google.
European news agencies are predictably extremely unhappy with Google's actions, which Google contends are necessary for compliance with the court’s order. Mail Online publisher Martin Clarke says the instances to date show what a nonsense the right to be forgotten is. “It is the equivalent of going into libraries and burning books you don't like," he contended. He told AFP that Mail Online would regularly publish lists of articles removed from Google's European search results, while the BBC and The Guardian also published links to the restricted stories.
A Google spokesperson told AFP that it individually examines each request to be forgotten to determine whether it meets the court ruling’s criteria. “This is a new and evolving process for us,” she said. “We'll continue to listen to feedback and will also work with data protection authorities and others as we comply with the ruling."
The European Court of Justice, the highest court in the European Union, ruled in June that European users should have the right to be forgotten on the Internet. It decided there were certain cases in which Google and other Internet companies should allow online users to be “forgotten” after a certain time by erasing links to web pages “unless there are particular reasons, such as the role played by the data subject in public life, justifying a preponderant interest of the public.”
Thus, Google and other Internet companies would have to remove web pages if requested, even if the original “publication in itself on those pages is lawful.” If the provider doesn’t remove the link to the “offending” information, the user can take the matter to the appropriate authorities to obtain, under certain conditions, the removal at the Internet company’s expense.
The officials will weigh “legitimate interest of Internet users potentially interested in having access to that information” and the individual’s fundamental right to privacy and to the protection of his/her personal data. The decision to remove links, according to the court, would depend on the “nature of the information in question and its sensitivity for the data subject’s private life and on the interest of the public in having that information, an interest which may vary, in particular, according to the role played by the data subject in public life,” observed the court.