Pando

Hooray! Europe's "right to be forgotten" hasn't ruined the web

By Nathaniel Mott , written on May 13, 2015

From The News Desk

The so-called right to be forgotten apparently hasn't turned the web into a hollow shell of its former self or condemned the world's information to the depths of oblivion. Quite the contrary: Most people who have tried to have their personal information removed from Google's search results after this "right" was introduced are disappointed.

Google has denied 70 percent of the 250,000 content removal requests it has received since the right to be forgotten was introduced in May of 2014. This means that the company is removing less content than before, when confusion about the right's guidelines led it to deny just 43 percent of people's requests.

That should alleviate some of the fears surrounding the ruling, which has been subject to relentless criticism. Some worry that it will enable people to censor the web. (Never mind the fact that "forgotten" links simply disappear from search results and don't have to be deleted from the Internet itself.)

Nevertheless, the ruling, which raised the ire of everyone from the press to justice ministers, will continue to remain controversial. As the Wall Street Journal notes in a report on the year-long fight over this seemingly innocuous right:

At issue is whether Google should be forced to remove links it has agreed to take down in Europe on its websites elsewhere in the world. Since last summer, Google executives have repeatedly said that they believe they should only remove links from the European versions of Google’s search engine, such as Google.es, or Google.de–not from google.com.

Executives say they want to avoid creating the precedent that one region can set global rules for the Internet. Of course, this isn't the first time we've heard about Google's desire to restrict the right to be forgotten to Europe. An advisory committee -- which has no formal power but was formed to help guide the company's policies -- said in February that European laws shouldn't affect search results in America.

Maybe the idea that people's pasts shouldn't haunt them for perpetuity will lead to a worse Internet. But at the moment, it seems like everyone's spent the last year arguing over something that hasn't affected all that many people anyway, and will probably affect even fewer as Google finds new ways to deny requests.

[art by Brad Jonas]