Google and Bing received more than one million right to be forgotten requests between 2015 and 2021 from European countries, according to a study published by Surfshark. More than half of these requests were made by users from just three countries: France, Germany and the United Kingdom.
France leads the ranking with more than 255,605 applications. It is followed by Germany, with 176,051; and then the United Kingdom, with 125,270. right after it appears Spain, which registered a total of 93,108 petitions in the seven years considered in the study.
The right to be forgotten grants individuals the right to request organizations to delete their personal data. One of the ways to exercise this right is to ask search engines like Google or Bing to remove certain results from queries related to your names.
If we compare the number of right to be forgotten requests with the population of each country, the picture changes. France stands out again, but in second place: it has 40 applications for every 10,000 inhabitants. From this perspective, the country with the highest records it was Estonia, with 53 per 10,000 inhabitants.
Western and Northern Europe have, in general terms, the highest density of claims in this regard: 28 and 21 requests per 10,000 people, respectively. While Southern Europe issued 16 applications and Eastern Europe, only eight for every 10,000 inhabitants.
The pandemic caused a spike in right-to-be-forgotten requests
The right to be forgotten was established for the first time in the region in May 2014, thanks to a resolution of the Court of Justice of the European Union. The following year, still driven by the novelty, 169,000 applications were issued. But then the curve started to go down, until the pandemic hit.
“As many daily activities went virtual, more people began to be more aware of their digital hygiene and review their privacy online,” Gabriele Kaveckyte, Surfshark’s privacy advisor, told Forbes.
Right to be forgotten requests increased by almost 30% in 2020. The research highlights the cases of countries such as Cyprus and Portugal, which submitted almost three times as many requests in 2020 than the previous year. In 2021 another jump of 15% occurred, with a historical maximum of 185.7 thousand requests in the analyzed countries. The study failed to include the 2022 result.
Kaveckyte explains that, apart from the pandemic, the application of the General Data Protection Regulation on the continent was also accelerated. “The view that online privacy is a fundamental human right continues to prevail to this day as well,” the Surfshark spokesperson said.
Google vs. Bing
Google, as expected, concentrated the majority of the requests related to the right to be forgotten: 95.8% of the total. Apart from Bing, the study did not consider other less used search engines. In the case of Google, specifically, the removal of a little more than 4 million web pages was requested. An average of 4 URLs in each request.
The reasons for the requests are varied. 17% of the complaints received by Google had to do with pages containing the applicant’s work address, contact information, or general information about their business activities. While 6% were websites that displayed even more personal data: address, residence, as well as images and videos of the affected person. Surfshark clarified, however, that it was unable to classify nearly half of the requests into a specific category.
One in ten websites questioned referred to the applicant in criminal terms, including crimes related to his professional field. When deciding which results to remove, search engines must verify whether the information in question is “inaccurate, inadequate, irrelevant or excessive”. They should also take into account whether there is a public interest that such information continues to appear in search results.