Google Deletes 170K URLs From Search Database Due to EU Privacy Rules

In its October transparency report, the search firm says it evaluated almost a half million URLs under the European Union's rule for privacy, pulling down 170,000.

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A woman from Italy requested that Google remove links to her husband's murder resulting from searches for her name. A German citizen asked that more than 50 links to an embarrassing exchange be removed from searches for his name.

In both cases, Google complied with the requests under the European Court of Justice's May 2014 ruling supporting citizens' right to be forgotten.

Since the ruling, Google has fielded almost 150,000 requests to remove search results from specific queries, encompassing almost a half million URLs, according to an update to its Transparency Report posted by the company on Oct. 10. Google removed links to almost 42 percent, approximately 170,000, of the URLs, the company said.

The company denied requests by a doctor to remove search results about a botched procedure and by a financial professor for results about his conviction for financial crimes, Google said.

"In evaluating a request, we will look at whether the results include outdated or inaccurate information about the person," Google stated in its explanation of its procedure. "We'll also weigh whether or not there's a public interest in the information remaining in our search results—for example, if it relates to financial scams, professional malpractice, criminal convictions or your public conduct as a government official, elected or unelected."

The Court of Justice's landmark ruling on May 13, 2014, has held Google, and other search providers, responsible for the results that appear upon searching a person's name. The ruling is based on Article 12 of the EU's Data Protection Directive adopted in 1995. While the ruling upholds strong support for personal privacy, it arguably removes important information from the Internet and burdens search firms with additional work to evaluate takedown requests and remove requested links content.

Google did not give any information on how costly or how scalable the process of removing search results has become. The company wanted to give users an idea of how much information it had removed from searches, according to Jess Hemerly, Google's manager of public policy.

"We believe it's important to be transparent about how much information we're removing from search results while being respectful of individuals who have made requests," Hemerly stated in a blog post on Google's Europe blog. "Releasing this information to the public helps hold us accountable for our process and implementation."

Most requests came from citizens in France, Germany, the United Kingdom, Spain and Italy, Google stated.

"We hope to find ways to share even more information about the impact of 'the right to be forgotten' in the near future, and continue to work on updating other sections to make them easier to use and more interesting to explore," Hemerly stated in her post.

Robert Lemos

Robert Lemos

Robert Lemos is an award-winning freelance journalist who has covered information security, cybercrime and technology's impact on society for almost two decades. A former research engineer, he's...