Right to be forgotten: It's the public, not celebs and politicians, making requests

Reseach has found the overwhelming majority of delisting requests come from private citizens, not public figures. Google disputes the numbers, however.

While 'right to be forgotten' cases making the news tend to feature public figures, the majority of requests involve individuals seeking to stop their personal information being shared.

Last May, the European Court of Justice ruled that individuals can request that search engines stop returning links to out of date, irrelevant or excessive information when people search for their names. To date, over 280,000 requests have been made.

The ruling was fiercely opposed by Google, which said it went too far, and didn't consider the impact on free expression, while removal requests involving public figures seeking to hide details of their pasts made headlines.

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Politicians have taken up the cause, albeit while ignoring how the right to be forgotten process works: the UK's business secretary Sajid Javid reportedly said the ruling meant "criminals are having their convictions airbrushed from history even if they have since committed other, similar crimes. Terrorists have ordered Google to cover up stories about their trials". (With stories involving criminal cases, it appears Google will remove links from searches about the victims, not the perpetrators. Google has so far not shared any details about right to be forgotten requests originating from 'terrorists'.)

However, according to figures discovered by the Guardian newspaper,the overwhelming majority of those making the requests are not celebrities and politicians who want to hide their dodgy pasts, but rather private individuals whose personal details have been leaked online.

The stats, hidden in Google's transparency report, show that only five percent of delinking requests come from public figures, while the other 95 percent are from individuals. The data has since been removed, according to the Guardian.

Of those requests from private individuals - the paper cites the example of a woman whose well-known husband had died, asking Google to stop returning a link to her address in search results for her name - 48 percent were granted, 37 percent were rejected, and the rest are pending.

The figures also show that right to be forgotten requests involving some categories - those right to be forgotten opponents focus on - have far less chance of being granted. For serious crimes, only 18 percent of requests were granted, and only 22 percent of those involving public figures.

Google says the data used by the Guardian is out of date. "We've always aimed to be as transparent as possible about our right to be forgotten decisions. The data the Guardian found in our Transparency Report's source code does of course come from Google, but it was part of a test to figure out how we could best categorise requests. We discontinued that test in March because the data was not reliable enough for publication. We are however currently working on ways to improve our transparency reporting," the company said in a statement.

So far, Google has received right to be forgotten requests involving over a million URLs.

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