The right to be forgotten on Google – what it is and how do I do it?

Thanks to European legislation you can ask Google to remove certain pages which contain information about you or your company from its search results. Here's how to request a delist - and your chances of success.

Since 2014 Google has been ordered by the European Court of Justice to remove certain URLs if requested to do – and the tech giant has received nearly 2.5 million requests.

We look at how the ruling has worked since the legislation came into being.

[Read more: The ‘right to be forgotten’ explained]

What is the 'right to be forgotten'?

It came about from a landmark ruling by the European Court of Justice in May 2014 that said people of the European Union could ask for search engines to remove information about themselves.

This “right to be forgotten” can be phrased as a “right to delist”. For the search engine to agree, Google says it must consider if the information is “inaccurate, inadequate, irrelevant or excessive” and whether it’s in the public interest for the information to stay.

How do we know that Google is acting on this?

Google publishes its Transparency Report which lists the number of URLs submitted, the number of URLs delisted and not delisted and anonymised examples.

The Transparency Reports can be viewed here - https://transparencyreport.google.com/eu-privacy/overview.

What is in the Transparency Report?

right to be forgotten

The graphic above shows a snapshot of what’s been happening over the past three years – 2.4 million URL requests of which 43% granted. The overwhelming proportion of requests (89%) have been made by private individuals.

The reports allow you to search by country to find the number of requests from over time, categories of requesters, categories of websites hosting content requested for delisting, URLs requested and delisted and others.

It gives examples of requests from different countries and also the sites that are most listed with Facebook, Twitter and YouTube ranking highly.

Why would Google refuse a request to delist?

Google could say no because it’s in the public interest for a page to remain among its results, for instance, or there could be a technical reason.  

Each request is individually looked into.

What’s an example of a successful request?

Examples Google give of successful requests in the UK are:

- A request from the spouse of a celebrity request the delisting of web pages relating to photos of the spouse posing nude from several decades ago – some had just text describing and others had images. Google delisted the URLs with images on them, but not the purely textual ones.

- A doctor requested we move more than 50 links to newspaper articles about a botched procedure. Three pages were removed that contained personal information about the doctor, but the others remained.

Does a ‘delisting’ mean articles disappear from the web completely?

No. All a successful right to be forgotten request achieves is deletion from the search engine and its results pages. All pages removed from search are still available from the host website.

How do I make a right to be forgotten request?

You need to fill in the form at this address - https://www.google.com/webmasters/tools/legal-removal-request?complaint_type=rtbf.

[Read more: Google removing data after requests]