A European privacy ruling known as the “Right to be Forgotten” allows people to ask for URLs specifically related to their name to be removed, essentially deleting Google search results. Known by its shorthand, RTBF went into effect in May 2014 and was considered a landmark ruling that allows the delisting of online information from search engine results.
Considered to be a right of privacy, any European person can request that Google, Bing, Yahoo, and other search engines delist URLs that may contain information that could be considered “inaccurate, inadequate, irrelevant, or excessive,” according to the ruling. The most critical piece of this ruling rests on the requirement that search engine companies determine whether or not a person’s right to privacy outweighs access to information by the public.
Major questions came to light about how search engine operators were deciding this factor. In fact, there is a quest to receive data regarding how often the rule is enforced. A recent study published by Google sought to gain a better understanding of the RTBF ruling and its practical uses since 2014.
Overview of the Study’s Key Findings
Typically, there are two main reasons why an individual would request a delisting of a URL. The first was represented by 33% of cases when users asked for a delist of a social media or directory account that contained personal information. The second was represented by 20% of URL delisting requests related to news or government websites that typically covered the legal history of the requester. The final 47% of delist requests came from a wide variety of content and reasons for the delist request.
Notably, when there were variations in local or regional laws regarding privacy, some areas saw an increase in URL delisting requests than others. For example, people in France and Germany often asked for social media and directory pages to be delisted. People in Italy and the United Kingdom more often asked for news sites to be delisted, at a rate of three times more than other European regions. Researchers also found that delist requests carried a local intent, meaning over 77% of URL delist requests were from a country code top-level domain. Also, each of the top 25 news outlets that received URL delist requests had a minimum of 86% requests from the same country.
Despite the great volume of requests to delist URLs, only about 43% of them actually meet the criteria necessary for delisting. Also, researchers found that the URL delist requests came from a small number of countries and individuals. Fifty-one percent of all delist requests came from France, Germany and the United Kingdom combined. Fifteen percent of all URL requests came from 1,000 individuals. The most common group to request delistings were law firms and reputation management companies.
Finally, researchers found that the most URL delisting requests came from private individuals, not companies. In fact, 85% of private individuals made the requests; within that group, 5% were people under the age of 18. Within the last two years, non-government public figures requested 41,213 URL delistings, and politicians and other government officials requested 33,937 URL delistings.
Overall, the analysis presented in these research findings covered 2.4 million URL delisting requests from Europeans over a period of three years and seven months.