What is Google’s ‘right to be forgotten’?

Google's controversial search removals are in the news again.
Google's controversial search removals are in the news again.
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With a UK businessman the latest individual to win the “right to be forgotten” over a past crime, here is a Q&A on Google’s controversial search removals.

A businessman fighting for the “right to be forgotten” over a past crime has won a High Court action against Google.

The ruling in the man’s favour was made by a judge in London on Friday.

But Mr Justice Warby rejected a similar claim brought by a second businessman who was jailed for a more serious offence.

READ MORE: Google defends ‘right to be forgotten’ statement

The judge announced his decisions in the two cases, which were both contested by Google, following separate High Court trials.

Both businessmen, who were convicted of criminal offences many years ago, argued that their convictions were now legally “spent”, and that they have been rehabilitated.

What is the right to be forgotten?

The “right to be forgotten” is based on the premise that outdated information about people should be removed from the internet after a certain time, following a European court decision.

READ MORE: Activist hits out at Google over ‘right to be forgotten’

Google only deletes information that appears on its own results pages. It has no control over information on external websites.

When did it come into force?

In May 2014, the European Court of Justice (ECJ) said links to irrelevant and outdated data should be erased from searches on request.

The ruling came about after a case brought against Google by Spaniard Mario Costeja Gonzalez, who wanted two newspaper articles dating back to 1998 to be deleted from the search results page.

They contained an announcement for a real-estate auction after he got into debt.

Who will it affect?

The initial purge of search results applied to Google’s local search pages covering the EU’s 28 member nations and four other European countries, encompassing more than 500 million people.

In early 2016, Google said it would hide content removed through the ruling from all versions of its search engine if a European IP address was detected.

How do you ask for something to be removed?

Anybody can exercise their right to be forgotten via an online form. The California-based search engine will then make a decision by balancing the individual’s right to privacy with the public’s right to know.

What impact has it had?

Some 669,355 requests for links to be removed from the search engine results have been made to Google since the ruling.

These cover almost two-and-a-half million URLS, 49.3% of which were deleted.

The most affected website is Facebook, with 18,723 links removed.

How do people feel about it?

Proponents of the court decision say it gives individuals the possibility to restore their reputation by deleting references to old debts, past arrests and other unflattering episodes.

But the move has sparked concerns about news stories and other previously public information being hidden.

Immediately after the 2014 ruling, the founder of Wikipedia Jimmy Wales warned that Google must not be left to “censor history”, warning that would be “a very dangerous path to go down”.

Supporters point out that the court specified Google should not remove links to information when the public’s right to know about it outweighs an individual’s right to privacy - for example when a politician or public figure seeks to clean online records.