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5 more things we’ve learned about the right to be forgotten

Problems abound as Google tries to comply with ECJ ruling.

By Jimmy Nicholls

The right to be forgotten has been a continuing source of trouble for Google since the European Court of Justice ruled that the search engine was obliged to remove links deemed "inadequate, irrelevant or no longer relevant".

According to a letter written to the Article 29 Working Party, the EU’s data protection group, Google has received more than 91,000 removal requests so far. But what else did it tell us about the process? Here’s what you need to know.

1) More than half of the URLs submitted have been removed

Google has three responses to requests: accept, reject or demand more information. As of July 18, 53% of the 328,000 URLs submitted had been removed, with a third of requests being rejected and 15% being sent back for extra detail. The search engine believes the ratios might change significantly as time goes on.

2) People are already trying to game the system

As many predicted when news of the ruling came through, Google is having problems mediating between legitimate claims and fraudulent ones. "We generally have to rely on the requester for information, without assurance beyond the requester’s own assertions as to its accuracy," the company said. It added that people were failing to provide adequate context, and even submitting "false and inaccurate information".

3) It affects countries within the European Union (EU) or European Free Trade Agreement (EFTA)

At this point the EU and its free trade agreement for non-members covers most of Europe, most of western and central Europe covered, plus some of the east. Links can only be redacted on versions of Google that fall within the EU or EFTA, and if it is pulled in the UK the same will happen in France.

4) It won’t share details with other search engines – because of data security

The company has a problem: if it provides too little information other search engines cannot make "informed decisions", but if it provides too much, concerns are raised about data processing. To resolve this it has just decided not to bother sending anything at all, a decision you can hardly blame them for.

5) Users are notified that the results have been tampered with, except when queries involve famous people.

Google has a history when it comes to resisting censorship, as demonstrated by its quarrels with China, and it is still honouring that commitment by informing users when a search result has been removed. The only exception is when the search involves celebrities, which according to Google would "very rarely be affected by a removal". Perhaps they are worried about nosy hacks seeking muck.

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