Google’s Right to be Forgotten Procedure

May 29, 2014

In response to the judgment of the CJEU in Google Spain, Google has published a form for completion by those seeking to have links removed. The form may be accessed here. The procedure, which appears to be an adaptation of established procedures for the take down of material and links that are related to copyright breaches or harassment, requires the applicant to give information about the urls to which objection is taken:

‘(a) Provide the URL for each link appearing in a Google search for your name that you request to be removed. (The URL can be taken from your browser bar after clicking on the search result in question).
(b) Explain, if not clear, why the linked page is about you (or, if you are submitting this form on behalf of someone else, the person named above).
(c) Explain how this URL in search results is irrelevant, outdated, or otherwise inappropriate’.

The procedure also requires information to verify the identity of the applicant. Despite the fact that Google state that that they will balance privacy rights with the public’s right to know and distribute information, the form seeks no verifiable support for any information the applicant gives as to his or her current situation or future plans.

If one is about to embark on a career in public life, there is no obligation to reveal the fact. Presumably, the making of a false statement in the form could amount to an offence under the Fraud Act 2006 or equivalent legislation elsewhere, but (in England and Wales at least) only if there is a gain or loss in ‘money or other property’ so not merely in reputation. 

There is a fascinating account of how the procedure will work in practice, from Danny Sullivan on Search Engine Land, in How Google’s New “Right To Be Forgotten” Form Works: An Explainer at In a series of tweets, John Halton (@johnhlaton) laid bare the reality:

links won’t be affected. EU-based users can just switch from their local version to .com to get removed results’.

 ‘So the may just be the ‘.

Google’s introduction to the procedure is as follows:

‘A recent ruling by the Court of Justice of the European Union found that certain users can ask search engines to remove results for queries that include their name where those results are “inadequate, irrelevant or no longer relevant, or excessive in relation to the purposes for which they were processed.

In implementing this decision, we will assess each individual request and attempt to balance the privacy rights of the individual with the public’s right to know and distribute information. When evaluating your request, we will look at whether the results include outdated information about you, as well as whether there’s a public interest in the information—for example, information about financial scams, professional malpractice, criminal convictions, or public conduct of government officials.

If you have a removal request, please fill out the form below. Please note that this form is an initial effort. We look forward to working closely with data protection authorities and others over the coming months as we refine our approach.’

EU Vice-President Reding said:

‘It is a good development that Google has announced that it will finally take the necessary measures to respect European law. It was about time since European data protection laws exist since 1995. It took the European Court of Justice to say so. The right to be forgotten and the right to free information are not foes but friends.’

Adding that the European Commission would now need to look into how the announced tool will work in practice, Vice President Reding said that “The move demonstrates that fears of practical impossibility raised before were unfounded.”

To those who claim the ruling and the right to be forgotten endangered media freedom she firmly replied: “It’s not about protecting one at the expense of the other but striking the right balance in order to protect both. The European Court made it clear that two rights do not make a wrong and has given clear directions on how this balance can be found and where the limits of the right to be forgotten lie. The Court also made clear that journalistic work must not be touched; it is to be protected.

Finding the right balance is exactly the spirit of the on-going EU data protection reform: empowering citizens to manage their personal data while explicitly protecting the freedom of expression and of the media. The freedom of expression is a fundamental right enshrined in Europe’s Bill of Rights. Europe upholds this right – not least in Article 80 of the proposed data protection law. It is mass surveillance not data protection that legitimises the actions of repressive regimes.

There is a real opportunity to build strong and innovative businesses on the basis of offering true data protection. Legal certainty and empowering consumers to manage their data can yield steady revenues and profits. Data protection is the business model of the future. There is a whole world of business waiting for companies wishing to seize this opportunity.’

Setting out his thoughts on the new online tool, Mark Watts of Bristows LLP said:

The CJEU judgment raised some extraordinarily complex questions regarding the rights to privacy and freedom of expression, and the implications of the decision will no doubt be the subject of much debate in the coming months and years. In the meantime, however, Google’s new tool demonstrates the first practical step by the search engines to address the issues posed by the judgment.

The basics of the tool

Google’s prompt release of this tool is evidence of just how seriously it is taking the CJEU’s judgment. The short online form, which can be completed in a matter of minutes, allows individuals to list as many URLs as they would like to be ‘de-coupled’ from their name. It also provides an opportunity for the requestor to explain why the link should be removed – to assist Google in conducting the difficult balancing exercise between the individual’s right to privacy and the wider public interest in that information being accessible to internet users.  This also serves as reminder that the CJEU ruling does not establish a general ‘right to be forgotten’ in all circumstances; Google is only obligated to delete the information if it is irrelevant, out of date, or otherwise incompatible with the protections offered under EU data protection law.

The requirement for ID

Google has decided to request a copy of a valid form of photo ID from individuals submitting a request — which is important to protect against someone else submitting a malicious or prank request for your information to be deleted.

Europe-wide application

Something which will no doubt please potential requestors is that it looks as if Google has chosen to make the removal effective across its search engines for the entire EU. An individual in the UK will not only come out of search results in, but also, and – despite the fact that their rights under the UK Data Protection Act do not extend beyond the territory of the UK. Clearly, Google has to apply some territorial limits to the removal (it would be absurd for the application of EU data protection law to extend to, for example, an article by a US journalist on a US website, visible in Google’s US search results), but by deciding not to limit the tool to a country-by-country basis, Google offers a simple and effective means for individuals to protect their privacy across the whole of Europe.