Millions of Europeans are asking Google to be 'forgotten' — here's why Americans don't have that same option

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  • The European Union enacted a law in 2014 that says search engines like Google should remove results from a query if the individual or company named in the result request it. 
  • Google has since removed 901,656 of the 2.4 million URLs that individuals and companies have requested to be delisted.
  • This is not something that US users have the option to do — nor are they likely to, since the First Amendment protects the free flow of information across the internet. 

 

Google has been forced to clean house ever since a 2014 ruling that says Europeans can request to be removed from search-engine results.

Google has received 655,429 requests to delist a total of 2.4 million URLs, and granted the removal of almost half of those URLs (901,656), according to its latest transparency report. The remaining 1.2 million URLs will not be delisted.

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 rules that individuals should 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 total URLs requested for removal as of January.)

The requirements for Google to comply include whether or not 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 individuals hoping to take Google to court in hopes of a similar outcome should probably rule out that possibility. The First Amendment prohibits the the US government from making any law that removes freedom of speech, meaning it’s a lot more conservative with regards to removing public information from the internet.

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 $2.9 billion for denying “consumers a genuine choice” when shopping online for products.

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