- The European Union enacted a law in 2014 that says search engines like Google must remove results from a query in some cases in which the person or company named in the result requests it.
- Google has since removed 901,656 of the 2.4 million URLs that people and companies have requested to be delisted.
- This is not something US users have the option to do, since the First Amendment protects the freedom of speech and has been widely interpreted to forbid censorship.
Google has had more work on its plate in Europe since a 2014 ruling said Europeans could request to be removed from search-engine results.
Google has received 655,429 requests to delist 2.4 million URLs, of which it granted the removal of almost half (901,656), according to its latest transparency report.
The requests started rolling in after the top court in Europe ruled against Google in a case involving a man who wanted the company to take down a link to an article about an auction on his home. The court subsequently enacted the “right to be forgotten” law, which says people have the right to ask search engines to remove any results with their name in it. (Interestingly, 1% of the requesters accounted for 20% of the URLs requested for removal as of January.)
The requirements for Google to comply include whether the links are “inadequate, irrelevant or no longer relevant, or excessive.” Requests are submitted through an online form, vetted manually, and then responded to via email. If they’re not granted, for reasons like public interest and existence of alternative solutions as named in the report, Google provides an explanation as to why. If they are granted, the results are removed from Google’s European search results.
The ruling is very much in line with the European Union’s privacy law, which focuses heavily on the privacy of individual citizens. But that isn’t how things work in the US, so American companies or people hoping to take Google to court in hopes of a similar outcome should probably rule out that possibility.
The First Amendment protects freedom of speech, meaning laws that involve censorship of accurate and non-private information (meaning not related to things like personal finances or healthcare) are less likely to be passed in the US.
There’s also a lot of pushback to put restrictions on a company’s basic technology in the US, while the EU has repeatedly shown to have no such hesitation. This was the case when EU regulators fined Google $US2.9 billion for denying “consumers a genuine choice” when shopping online for products.