A year after the 'right to be forgotten' ruling, Google is not very likely to forget about you

Google removes a link from its search results about 40 percent of the time

Google's right to be forgotten dashboard as shown on May 13, 2015

Google's right to be forgotten dashboard as shown on May 13, 2015

A year after the European Union's top court gave Europeans a right to be forgotten by search engines, it is most likely that Google will still remember you after you filed a request to disappear from its search listings.

In fact, chances are that the search result you want to have removed when someone Googles your name will stay visible. That happens in almost 60 percent of cases, the company's online transparency tool showed.

On May 13, 2014, the Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU) granted people the right to request removal of search results for queries including their names if the results are inadequate or irrelevant.

So far, Google, which has over a 90 percent share of the search market in many European countries, has received over 253,000 removal requests covering over 920,000 links. Google removed a little over 40 percent of those links, about 380,000.

Since May 29, when Google launched its request process, most requests have come from the EU's biggest countries.

Even adjusting for population size, the French and Germans were the most concerned by search results about them. Google received about 780 requests per million inhabitants from France, 530 per million from Germany, 500 per million from the U.K., 490 per million from Spain and 310 per million from Italy.

It turns out, though, that the French and Germans were right to be concerned: Google accepted nearly half of the link removal requests from France and Germany, although the acceptance rate was lower elsewhere, ranging from 37.5 percent in the U.K. to 27.6 percent in Italy.

Social media sites are among the most affected by the ruling. Facebook tops the list with 6772 URLs removed from Google's search results, closely followed by New Zealand social network search engine profileengine.com (6035) and the Google Groups forum (4000). The top ten most affected sites also includes Google Plus, YouTube, Twitter, German people search engine Yasni, Facebook event list service whereevent.com, people search engine 192.com and dating site Badoo.

Those top ten sites account for 8 percent of removed links, according to Google.

Google is not the only company though that tracks the impact of removal requests on its search results. French online reputation management company Reputation VIP opened a portal last year to assist people in filing removal requests with Google and with Microsoft's Bing search engine. Since the end of June last year, the company has sent over 61,000 URLs to Google, it said in a blog post.

According to Reputation VIP, Google has become faster in processing requests.

Requests sent in June last year took 56 days to process, by March, this time had been cut to 16 days, statistics showed.

Over time, Google apparently also became more critical. The refusal rate of delisting requests sent through Forget.me has gradually stabilized at around 70 percent, a figure that has been steady since January. That is a sharp increase, as Google only rejected 43 percent of requests filed in June, Reputation VIP noted.

Google did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the changes. The company said in November that it employed a big team of lawyers, engineers and paralegals to evaluate every URL requested to be delisted.

According to the company's statistics, Google is most likely to remove links when they invade someone's privacy by for example revealing a private address or religious or political opinions against someone's will. Google also appears to be particularly reticent when a URL is related to a persons professional activity. The press, that have sometimes called the right to be forgotten a censorship tool, seems to be largely unaffected as requests covering media represent only 3.3 percent of total requests while Wikipedia only accounts for 0.2 percent of requests, it said.

Invasion of privacy is also the vast majority of reasons to request Bing to remove search listings, according to Reputation VIP. Though people seem far less interested in having a link removed from Microsoft's search engine as only a little over 4,300 URLs were sent to Bing through Forget.me, it said, adding that as there is a steady stream of requests the right to be forgotten addresses a genuine need.

In its present form, though, it doesn't help people forget. Google only removes search results from its European sites, including google.co.uk and google.fr. EU data protection authorities, though, want Google to extend the service to its main site at google.com, which still returns the disputed links in its search results.

Loek is Amsterdam Correspondent and covers online privacy, intellectual property, online payment issues as well as EU technology policy and regulation for the IDG News Service. Follow him on Twitter at @loekessers or email tips and comments to loek_essers@idg.com

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