Around eighteen months ago back in May 2014, the Court of Justice of the European Union ruled that search engines may be forced to erase search results linking to individuals on the World Wide Web. This ruling allows individuals to apply to Google, and other search engines, to remove links to documents such as news articles or court judgements apertaining to their individual name. The judgement gave the search the engine the ability to assess each individual request on its own merit, but set down the framework: the search engine can only continue to show the search results where there is a public interest in doing so. As one might expect, this can potentially put Google into a precarious situation and on the source link below there are twenty three case studies that demonstrate the balancing act Google follows between removing the search engine result or not.
Google does not fully rationalize why it removes some links but keeps others, although in the frequently asked questions section it provides guidelines. The search engine giant takes into account if the individual is a public or private figure and if any crime is considered to be minor or significant. In the case of embarrassing events, Google decides if such an event took place in an individual’s professional or private life. One example given on the website from the United Kingdom details how someone asked for the removal of a link to a news article detailing a local magistrate’s decision including a guilty verdict. Here, Google cited the UK Rehabilitation of Offenders Act and explained that because the man’s conviction has been spent, it removed the page from search engines. Another example, this time from Italy, details how an individual asked Google to remove a link to an official state document published by the state authority reporting containing information about fraudulent acts committed by the individual. Here, Google did not remove the link. Another Italian case study concerns a lady who asked Google to remove a link to a page containing a self-published, but copied and reposted image. Here, Google removed the link.
Since May 2014, when Google started accepting requests, the company has received almost 350,000 requests and has reviewed over 1.2 million web pages. This information is published as part of Google’s transparency reports and this includes Government requests to remove links and content. Google also detailed the top ten websites with removed links, with Facebook, online dating site Profile Engine and the Google Groups websites as the top three. These top ten websites consist of 9% of all requests received.