Since the European Court of Justice decided to have Google remove links to content that is “inadequate, irrelevant or no longer relevant”, literally thousands of persons have claimed their right to be forgotten. To be precise, more than 280’000 people have asked Google to remove certain links, in total to more than a million pages. Interestingly, the distribution of those requests varies significantly from country to country. The French are holding the first place in the number of links to be removed, accounting for around 197’000, which equals to about 20% of the total requests from Europe. Of the 1.1 million links that were requested to be removed, 602’000 have actually been deleted.
As to be expected, this newly created right is not only requested for legit reasons, e.g. to remove links to unwanted comments on social networks or dating platforms, but also by delinquents who try to remove undesired traces of their criminal past. Among others, Google also removed links to various Mail articles, referring for example to rapists, paedophiles and murderers. While the European ruling states, that people convicted of serious crimes do not have the aforementioned ‘right to be forgotten’, this does not apply to other people mentioned on relevant pages. This leaves a back-door for criminals to ask relatives or friends for removal of pertaining links, pages or articles, effectively deleting their own history. To date the decision of the European Court of Justice only concerns European versions of Google’s search engines, which allows for recovery of deleted links through e.g. google.com or other non-European sites, but as data protectors around the world are pushing to enforce this ruling globally, Google might soon be forced to remove links entirely.
Of course the removal of links to information does not remove the information itself, as a search engine has no influence on the content it refers to, it only makes it easier or, if deleted, harder to be found. So far, Google remains the only search provider to be directly affected by this right and it remains to be seen how other engines like bing, duckduckgo or yahoo and others will (have to) deal with this new kind of challenge.
Either way, this will not be the last we hear of the ‘right to be forgotten’, as various countries and providers are yet unaffected but very certain to be hit rather sooner than later.