‘Dear Google’: An Open Letter from 80 Academics on the ‘Right to be Forgotten’

Internet Policy Observatory affiliate Christian Möller discusses the May 13th open letter to Google signed by eighty scholars. The letter asks Google for more transparency on how it processes ‘right to be forgotten’ (RTBF) requests. To view the complete letter click here.

A year ago, in March 2014, the European Court of Justice (ECJ) ruled that Google and other search engines function as ‘controllers’ of personal information as laid out in the European Data Protection Directive (DPD). Responsibilities of those controllers include an obligation to keep data that provides identifying information about individuals for no longer than is necessary for the purposes for which the data were collected or for which they are further processed.

Search engines, according to the ECJ ruling, must remove links to outdated or irrelevant personal information from search results upon request. The Court found that individuals have a right to control their private data and that they have the right to request that information be ‘forgotten’ when the results show links to information that is no longer accurate or relevant. It also established that Google’s search engine results are fully subject to European data privacy law.

In an initial reaction after the ruling, Google called the judgment ‘disappointing,’ saying that it ‘went too far’. Following the ECJ ruling, however, the company followed the Court decision and has set up a form to submit removal requests. On the day of form’s release, Google reportedly received more than 12,000 removal requests. To date, Google says that it has received more than 250,000 requests to delist links and has evaluated more than 930,000 URLS  for removal. According to a Google transparency report, 41 percent of those URLs have been removed and 59 percent have not been removed. That sums up to roughly 380,000 URLs removed from Google search results because of RTBF requests.

At the same time, search engines are still struggling with the question of how to react to the Court ruling. Google has established an Advisory Council to help handle requests from Europeans claiming their ‘right to be forgotten’ and has published a transparence report and answers to frequently asked questions on the topic.

The Advisory Council published a report in January 2015 after…

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