Most Google de-listing requests are from everyday folk, leaked data shows

Few requests are from politicians and other high-profile people

Google executive chairman Eric Schmidt (center) and Google legal office David Drummond (right of Schmidt) during the Madrid Right to be Forgotten meeting

Google executive chairman Eric Schmidt (center) and Google legal office David Drummond (right of Schmidt) during the Madrid Right to be Forgotten meeting

Newly leaked figures reveal that the vast majority of people who exercised their right to be "forgotten" by Google's services in Europe are everyday members of the public, with just 5 percent of requests coming from criminals, politicians and high-profile public figures.

Europe's highest court affirmed last year that people have the right to ask Google to remove certain results from its search engine, on the grounds that the information might be outdated or otherwise unfairly cast them in a negative light.

Google has protested the decision, arguing that removing links requires "difficult value judgments" and can go against the public interest. It has pointed to "former politicians wanting posts removed that criticize their policies in office; serious, violent criminals asking for articles about their crimes to be deleted; bad reviews for professionals like architects and teachers; comments that people have written themselves (and now regret)."

The figures suggest that requests from those first two categories, at least -- politicians and serious criminals -- have been minimal.

The Guardian newspaper discovered the numbers hidden in the source code for an archived version of Google's transparency report. The information has since been removed.

Google's original report provided the number of requests received and granted, but did not describe the nature of the requests in detail.

According to the Guardian, of the nearly 220,000 requests received as of March, more than 95 percent came from everyday citizens throughout Europe wanting links to private and personal information removed.

The requests included a woman whose name appeared in prominent news articles after her husband died, while another sought the removal of her address, The Guardian said. Another request came from an individual who contracted HIV a decade ago.

The European court ruling said Google and other search engines should consider carefully whether information people want removed is irrelevant or outdated, and remove links unless there are compelling reasons not to do so, such as when the information might serve the public interest.

The leaked figures suggest Google is adhering to those principles. The company granted requests from everyday citizens at a higher frequency than those related to political or public figures or serious crimes. Google has granted nearly half of all private and personal requests, while for information tied to political and public figures, it granted less than a quarter of them.

In total, Google has received more than 280,000 requests to remove links since Europe's top court required Google and other search providers to do so last May.

Google still has complicated issues to weigh in determining whether information tied to requests from everyday people might still serve the public interest. But the numbers give an indication that it's not primarily criminals and politicians who want to use the ruling to erase the past.

A Google spokesman, in a statement, said the company has aimed to be as transparent as possible about its right to be forgotten decisions.

"The data The Guardian found in our Transparency Reports source code does of course come from Google, but it was part of a test to figure out how we could best categorize requests," he said. The test was discontinued in March because the data was not reliable enough for publication, he said, but the company is working on ways to improve its transparency reporting.

Zach Miners covers social networking, search and general technology news for IDG News Service. Follow Zach on Twitter at @zachminers. Zach's e-mail address is zach_miners@idg.com

Join the CSO newsletter!

Error: Please check your email address.

Tags Internet-based applications and servicesGooglesecuritysocial mediainternetsearch enginesprivacy

More about GoogleIDGNewsTwitter

Show Comments

Featured Whitepapers

Editor's Recommendations

Solution Centres

Stories by Zach Miners

Latest Videos

  • 150x50

    CSO Webinar: The Human Factor - Your people are your biggest security weakness

    ​Speakers: David Lacey, Researcher and former CISO Royal Mail David Turner - Global Risk Management Expert Mark Guntrip - Group Manager, Email Protection, Proofpoint

    Play Video

  • 150x50

    CSO Webinar: Current ransomware defences are failing – but machine learning can drive a more proactive solution

    Speakers • Ty Miller, Director, Threat Intelligence • Mark Gregory, Leader, Network Engineering Research Group, RMIT • Jeff Lanza, Retired FBI Agent (USA) • Andy Solterbeck, VP Asia Pacific, Cylance • David Braue, CSO MC/Moderator What to expect: ​Hear from industry experts on the local and global ransomware threat landscape. Explore a new approach to dealing with ransomware using machine-learning techniques and by thinking about the problem in a fundamentally different way. Apply techniques for gathering insight into ransomware behaviour and find out what elements must go into a truly effective ransomware defence. Get a first-hand look at how ransomware actually works in practice, and how machine-learning techniques can pick up on its activities long before your employees do.

    Play Video

  • 150x50

    CSO Webinar: Get real about metadata to avoid a false sense of security

    Speakers: • Anthony Caruana – CSO MC and moderator • Ian Farquhar, Worldwide Virtual Security Team Lead, Gigamon • John Lindsay, Former CTO, iiNet • Skeeve Stevens, Futurist, Future Sumo • David Vaile - Vice chair of APF, Co-Convenor of the Cyberspace Law And Policy Community, UNSW Law Faculty This webinar covers: - A 101 on metadata - what it is and how to use it - Insight into a typical attack, what happens and what we would find when looking into the metadata - How to collect metadata, use this to detect attacks and get greater insight into how you can use this to protect your organisation - Learn how much raw data and metadata to retain and how long for - Get a reality check on how you're using your metadata and if this is enough to secure your organisation

    Play Video

  • 150x50

    CSO Webinar: How banking trojans work and how you can stop them

    CSO Webinar: How banking trojans work and how you can stop them Featuring: • John Baird, Director of Global Technology Production, Deutsche Bank • Samantha Macleod, GM Cyber Security, ME Bank • Sherrod DeGrippo, Director of Emerging Threats, Proofpoint (USA)

    Play Video

  • 150x50

    IDG Live Webinar:The right collaboration strategy will help your business take flight

    Speakers - Mike Harris, Engineering Services Manager, Jetstar - Christopher Johnson, IT Director APAC, 20th Century Fox - Brent Maxwell, Director of Information Systems, THE ICONIC - IDG MC/Moderator Anthony Caruana

    Play Video

More videos

Blog Posts

Market Place