Google Responds to ‘Right to Be Forgotten’ Questionnaire

In light of the most recent European ruling on the so-called “Right to Be Forgotten,” Google issued a public, or what it called “transparent,” response to a questionnaire it received from the Article 29 Working Party, an organization comprised of data protection authorities from the EU.

In its opening letter, Google notes it moved quickly to comply with the ruling and acknowledges its approach will evolve over time as it works through the process.

Additionally, Peter Fleischer of the Google Global Privacy Counsel said, “We also know some tough debates lie ahead. We think it is important to have those debates openly and respectfully. We look forward to working with the Article 29 Working Party, as we confront the many difficult challenges posed by the Costeja decision.”

Questionnaire Highlights

The first of the 26 questions focused on the type of information Google asks for prior to considering a delisting request for specific content.

According to Google, the information needs to be entered into its webform, which, in its current form, asks for the following:

  • Country whose law applies to the request;
  • Personal information;
  • And information about the specific search results in question.

The requestor must then confirm they represent accurate information and they are authorized to make the request and “sign” the document.

Another question asked whether requests are filtered by location, nationality or place of residence.

Google says its form “makes it clear that a requester must select a relevant country.”

And that means the individual will need to have some sort of connection to the country.

One of the most interesting questions is whether Google delists results displayed following a search in one of the following categories:

  • Only on EU/EEA domains;
  • On all domain pages accessible from the EU/EEA or by EU/EEA residents;
  • And all domains on a global basis.

The answer to this question could mean many different things. Could a ruling in Europe affect the information that U.S. citizens have access to? Have no fear: Google clearly says it removes links from search results only in European versions of Google.

Because Google has developed multiple versions of its product for different countries, it is better able to separate what appears on which search engines to help it comply with local laws.

Then comes the question of Google’s interest — including economic — to providing people open access to information versus the right of the data subject to have his or her results delisted.

Google’s response was simple.

“The core service of a search engine is to help users find the information they seek, and thus it is in a search engine’s general economic interest to provide the fastest, most comprehensive and most relevant search results possible,” Google said. “Beyond that abstract consideration however, our economic interest does not have a practical or direct impact on the balancing of rights and interests when we consider a particular removal request.”

When reviewing requests for removal of information, Google takes into consideration:

  • The individual — i.e., whether the person in question is a public figure;
  • Who published the information — including whether the material was published by a reputable news source or government website;
  • And the nature of the information available.

Another interesting question focused on requests received when the data subject is the author of the information or published said information him- or herself.

Google does consider in favor of not removing search results if the data subject published them. However, it assesses each case individually.

When asked if it had statistics around the total removal requests received versus actual removals, Google provided the following statement: “As of 18th July, we have received more than 91,000 removal requests involving more than 328,000 URLs.”

The breakdown by country for the six largest countries in terms of requests was as follows:

  • 17,500 requests have been made under French law (as chosen by the requester in the webform), involving around 58,000 URLs;
  • 16,500 requests under German law for 57,000 URLs;
  • 12,000 requests under U.K. law for 44,000 URLs;
  • 8,000 requests under Spanish law for 27,000 URLs;
  • 7,500 requests under Italian law for 28,000 URLs;
  • And 5,5000 requests under Dutch law for 21,000 URLs.

The Telegraph reported the House of Lords committee had ruled the “Right to be Forgotten” law is both “unworkable and wrong.” Additionally, they believe the court ruling was based on outdated principles and it was a mistake to assume it even exists in law.

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