Right to be Forgotten Overview

I. What is the Right to be Forgotten?

The "right to be forgotten" is a common name for a right that was first established in May 2014 in the European Union as the result of a ruling by the European Court of Justice. The Court found that European data protection law gives individuals the right to ask search engines like Google to delist certain results for queries related to a person’s name. In deciding what to delist, search engines must consider if the information in question is “inaccurate, inadequate, irrelevant or excessive,” and whether there is a public interest in the information remaining available in search results.

In 2018, the EU adopted the General Data Protection Regulation (the GDPR). Article 17 of the GDPR sets out a ‘right to erasure’ similar to the right the European Court of Justice had recognized under the older law that the GDPR replaced. Some countries outside the European Union have adopted similar laws as well. To give a few examples, in July 2015, Russia passed a law that allows citizens to delist a link from Russian search engines if it “violates Russian laws or if the information is false or has become obsolete” [26], and Turkey and Serbia have also established their versions of right to be forgotten since.

II. Who can make a request to delist content under data protection laws?

In general, data protection rules only apply to the processing of personal data relating to individuals. Corporations and other legal entities usually don’t have rights to delist content for queries based on their corporate name.

Most requests come directly from the person affected, but you can make a request on someone else’s behalf, as long as you can confirm that you’re legally authorized to do so. Please check your local laws to find out more about your legal rights and if you are eligible.

III. What you can check before submitting a request

If you published the content yourself, you may be able to remove the material from the Web, or stop it from appearing in search results. Many social networks provide privacy controls to protect content you’ve created, as well as ways to take down abusive content posted by others.

Removing material from the Web can be more effective than removing it only from Google on searches for your name.

If you can remove the content from the Web, Google’s results will update after our search crawlers next access the page. If Google's search result preview (or ‘snippet’) doesn’t show the current version of the page, you can request a temporary block of the snippet via this tool.

IV. How do I submit a request?

Fill out this webform to submit a request. Please make sure you include these things:

  • The specific URL(s) for the content that you want delisted. You can learn how to find the correct URL here.
  • A description of how the content is related to you, and why we should delist it from Google search results.
  • The search query for which you’d like us to delist the content, i.e., your full name. You may also be able to ask us to delist content for a different name, for example a nickname. In this case, please also tell us how this name is linked to your identity.
  • An email address where you can be reached.

It’s always helpful to provide as much background information as is necessary for us to effectively evaluate your request by looking at all information available. Sometimes we need more information to decide on your request. If we do, we’ll write you an email and request more information, and wait for you to respond before we proceed.

V. What is Google’s decision process?

Our professional reviewers will manually review your request. Broadly, the reviewer will consider whether and how the information may be in the public interest, and weigh this against your rights under the applicable data protection law.

There are several reasons why information may be in the public interest. As part of the balancing exercise, Google looks to a number of different sources, such as the guidelines developed by European data protection regulators, including the Article 29 Working Party’s guidelines on the implementation of the European court’s ruling and the guidelines by the European Data Protection Board, and the case law of the European Court of Justice clarifying common understanding of EU data protection laws.

Our reviewers look at factors like these:

Your role in public life

Public figures are people such as politicians, celebrities, business or religious leaders, who have a certain social position because of their job, function or commitments, which results in influence on society through that position.

  • We look at whether and how the information relates to your public role. The less the information relates directly to the way in which you’re known publicly, the more likely it is we’ll act to delist.

    For instance, information about your personal life may not be relevant to your public role as an architect. But if the content contained criticism about the performance in your role as an architect, we are less likely to delist. Our approach here is to assess whether access to the information would protect the public against improper public or professional conduct, or otherwise inform the public about your overall record as a professional or otherwise your public role.

  • We also look at the significance of your public role. For instance, candidates who stand for election to political office are asking the voting public to judge their fitness for office based on many factors. We are less likely to delist information about political candidates, senior officials of the state, and the like.
  • After someone has left a particular public role, the ongoing public interest in that role depends on how senior their past role was, the role they are in now, and how much time has passed. If someone is for example likely to stand for election into public office again, or this person is still in the public eye in a different position and still has public influence, we’ll often keep information about them available for historical purposes. For instance, it will be extremely rare for us to delist any information about a head of government.

Where the information comes from

  • If the page is on a government site, we consider the fact that the government has decided to publish the information in question and make it available to search engines, on an ongoing basis. We defer strongly to such a decision. Government records play a vital role in keeping society informed of matters of public interest, and the government’s decision to keep publishing it is a strong indication that it considers the public interest to still exist.
  • If the information is on a news site and authored as part of journalistic activity, journalists have decided that the content is in the public’s interest. We take into account the media’s journalistic judgements in determining which information is relevant and in the public interest, especially for more recently-published materials.

How old the content is

  • We assess whether the information contained in a search result is still relevant. Relevance is often closely related to the content age.
  • We look at whether the information available is reasonably current and has not become out of date because of something that happened after it was published. For instance, a news report about an upcoming criminal trial may be out of date more quickly if the trial ended without a conviction, or if the conviction was set aside on appeal.
  • If the information relates to a role in public life that you held at the time of publication, we look at whether you’ve left that role and whether or not you are currently holding any similar role, such that the information is no longer relevant to you. For example, if the information is about your role as a leader of a company and you still lead that same or a similar kind of company, we’re less likely to delist it even if some time has passed since it was published.

The effect on Google’s users

  • We think about whether people who come to Google Search to search for your name have an important interest in finding out the information at issue. For instance, if you provide professional services, reviews of those services by past clients are likely to be of legitimate interest to future clients.
  • Likewise, if the information relates to a criminal conviction, we consider whether it is strictly necessary to continue to display the information in order to protect the freedom of information of our users, including to protect themselves from the possibility of similar future crimes by obtaining that information. In considering the time period before we delist information about a crime, we also look to local rules around when convictions become spent, expunged, or similar - that is, procedures that allow those with criminal convictions to put the conviction behind them in some official way.

Truth or falsehood

  • We aren’t in a good position to evaluate whether claims about you are true or false. Unlike a court, we can’t call witnesses or take sworn evidence, and we don’t always know all the facts that could help a judge decide whether something is true or false.
  • If it’s important for you to show that information is not true, please provide reliable evidence of that. For instance, if a court ruled in your favor in a lawsuit about the claims made against you, we would defer to that decision significantly.

Sensitive data

  • We'll consider how sensitive or private the content is. Sensitive content might include, for example, information about someone’s health, sexual orientation, race, ethnicity or religion. We’re much more likely to delist content containing such information, especially if the requester did not consent to making it public.

None of these factors are absolute and the above list is not exhaustive. Frequently, a case presents considerations that point in different directions, and we carefully consider those before making a decision. If we don’t have all the information we need, we may ask you for more information. That information helps us understand how the various factors might affect your request.

VI. What is the effect of a removal under data protection law?

We’ll only delist content from search results for queries related to your name. Content that we delist for your name may remain in our results for other queries.

We respect the territorial scope of the relevant laws in your location. For example, in the European Union we delist URLs from versions of Google’s search results for countries applying European data protection law. We’ll also use geolocation signals (like IP addresses) to restrict access to the delisted URL on all Google Search services for users we think are in the requester’s country. Consistent with a 2019 decision of the European Court of Justice, we don’t apply these delistings to services for countries outside the EU.

If you would like to delist a page from another country’s search results, you can file a request here and explain why that country’s law requires delisting.

VII. Where can I find more information?

Check out European privacy requests Search removals FAQs for more information. For more in-depth information, you can read “Five Years of the Right to be Forgotten”.

In our Transparency report you can find a lot of information about data, and anonymised examples of requests we’ve received. Please note these are real requests, so we need to protect the privacy of the requestors. This means we can’t share any more information about individual cases or the decision process.

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