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Right to be forgotten abuse fears appear overblown after Google report

Data leak shows most requests filed by ordinary people.

By Jimmy Nicholls

Fears that public figures would seek to censor their online history under the "right to be forgotten" appeared to be overblown on Tuesday, after Google inadvertently leaked data on the requests it has processed in the last year.

Numbers hidden in the report’s source code showed a mere 5% of requests the search engine received asked it to hide search results related to criminals, politicians and other public figures, according to the Guardian.

The remainder concerned private personal data, which under an EU court ruling from last year can be removed at the owner’s request if it is believed to be outdated or irrelevant.

Data from Google shows inly two-fifths of the 280,000 requests it received resulted in links being removed on individual name searches, with a million URLs being named in such requests.

Examples of requests given by the search engine included one by "a media professional" from the UK who asked Google to remove four links to reports of "embarrassing content" he posted online, a query that was denied.

A British doctor also asked the search engine to remove 50 links to articles on a botched medical procedure, which prompted Google to remove three search results mentioning his personal details but omitting information about the procedure.

However one link that has been exorcised from Google’s European sites concerns a convicted Briton named in a news piece on a local magistrate’s decisions.

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Explaining its decision to remove that result for search queries of the man’s name, Google noted: "Under the UK Rehabilitation of Offenders Act, this conviction has been spent."

Under the terms of the European Court of Justice ruling in May 2014 Google and other search engines are obliged to remove links to information that is deemed "inadequate, irrelevant or no longer relevant".

The decision led to a flurry of requests to Google, whose market share in European search is thought to total some 90% of queries.

Despite the apparent popularity of the service the move was widely condemned in the English-speaking press on both sides of the Atlantic, with the BBC economics editor Robert Peston complaining shortly after that Google had "cast me into oblivion" over one piece.

The ruling also led to questions over the corporate control of information, and whether it is right that Google be saddled with the pressure of making judgements on European public access to information.

As the search engine wrote in its report: "In assessing each request, Google must consider the rights of the individual as well as public interest in the content."

Google has also faced criticism for its decision not to censor its American search engine in line with European regulations, which has led some to complain it is trivial for a tech-savvy European to circumvent the court ruling.

Alongside the right to be forgotten controversy, Google is also facing yet another probe in the EU for alleged abuse of its search market dominance, which some argue it is leveraging to advance its Shopping price comparison service.

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