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Google’s ‘right to be forgotten’ – but does it help people with convictions?

We’ve published a new section of information looking the recent ‘right to be forgotten’ issue which relates to Google’s search results. We’ve copied this section below, and the specific section will be regularly updated as we learn more about how it works in practice.

We are looking for evidence of whether people have been successful in getting Google or others to remove search results and/or online content. We have a dedicated policy section on the main Unlock website explaining more about this’

Summary

You might have seen in the news recently that Google has launched a system where people can request information be removed from Google’s search results. This has come about because of a ruling on the 13th May by the Court of Justice of the European Union. The case was brought by a Spanish man who complained that an auction notice of his repossessed home on Google’s search results infringed his privacy. The court found in his favour, and this has potentially wide-reaching consequences for search engines like Google.

The ruling only covers the removing of the search results – the information will still exist on the website that published the original article but Google won’t be able to deliver matches to some enquiries that are entered. Deletion of the original information would still be the responsibility of the website owner, and in our experience, it’s very rare that websites agree to remove details relating to convictions (see more in reporting of criminal records in the media).

Information will only disappear from searches made in Europe. Queries piped through its sites outside the EU will still show the relevant search results.

However, many people are still seeing the ruling as a potential way of dealing with the ‘google-effect’ that often haunts people for lots of different reasons, and our Helpline and Forum have already seen this being raised by quite a few people when it comes to past convictions that have been reported online. So the important question for us is whether it will actually help people with convictions?

Is it likely to help people with convictions?

At the moment, the answer is that we simply don’t know. That’s why we want to encourage people with spent convictions to submit a request (see ‘What next’ below) to see how Google are dealing with requests like this.

Google itself has admitted that their system is their “initial effort” at complying with the Court’s judgement, and there’s little evidence of how they’re dealing with individual applications. It’s also worth bearing in mind that the judgement surprised many people, including Google themselves, and initial reports suggest that they’re being swamped with requests, with some suggesting that Google has been receiving over 10,000 requests per day. The ruling applies to other search engines too (e.g. Yahoo, Bing).

Google has said that information would start to be removed from mid-June and that decisions about data removal would be made by people rather than an algorithm which governs almost every part of Google’s search system.

Future updates

This update will be used to start a new section, titled ‘The Google Effect’. We will be using this page to add further information about how this issue progresses in the coming weeks and months.

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Photo of Head of Advice, Debbie Sadler
Debbie Sadler
Head of Advice

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