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One Year on from ‘Right to Be Forgotten’, Academics Call for Greater Transparency from Google

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One year after the European Court of Justice (ECJ) ruled that people could force search engines to remove links deemed “inaccurate, inadequate, irrelevant or excessive” from search results – the so called “right to be forgotten” – it has been announced that Google has removed just over 37 percent of links complained about in the UK.

Google has given details of some of the requests it processed. Cases in the UK include one where a man requested a link to a news summary of a local magistrate’s decisions, including the man’s guilty verdict, be removed. In that case the conviction was considered “spent” under the Rehabilitation of Offenders Act so the page was excluded from search results under his name. On the other hand Google refused a request from a former clergyman wanting to remove links to articles about an investigation of sexual abuse while in his professional capacity.

The UK data regulator, the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) told the BBC that it is looking into 48 refusals which it believes Google had not got “quite right” and has asked for the decisions to be revised. Saying that in most cases Google acts correctly the ICO continued:

“Since the details of the right to be forgotten ruling were first announced, we have handled over 183 complaints from those unhappy with Google’s response to their takedown request.  In around three-quarters of these cases, we have ruled that Google was correct to turn down an individual’s request to have their information removed.  This suggests that, for the most part, Google are getting the balance right between the protection of the individual’s privacy and the interest of internet users.”

Links to web pages removed from European search engines are still available on the sites where they were originally published, but are more difficult to find. They can still be found by searches on the US version of Google and some websites such as The Telegraph maintain a list of their links that have been removed.

A group of 80 internet scholars marked the anniversary of the ECJ ruling by writing an open letter to Google requesting greater transparency in the way requests are considered.  One reason for the request from the technology law, data protection and philosophers behind the letter is their belief “the public should be able to find out how digital platforms exercise their tremendous power over readily accessible information.”

Responding to the letter a spokesperson for Google told WIRED.co.uk that the company, “will consider these ideas, weighing them against the various constraints within which we have to work – operationally and from a data protection standpoint.”


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