A cut out face of a man wearing black clothes

Forget me not?

plainpicture/Kniel Synnatzschke

Two years ago today the European Union’s highest court shook the internet when it declared that EU citizens had a right to be forgotten online. The Court of Justice ruling means EU residents can ask for search results about them to be removed by going to Google’s takedown form, inputting details to verify identity and listing offending results.

Since then Google has assessed requests from over 425,000 EU citizens to have nearly 1.5 million URLs scrubbed from search results, with a removal rate of around 43 per cent.

Google assesses each claim based on what it can glean about the circumstances and what it thinks the right to be forgotten might mean in the country the request came from.

Successful requests often involve old, incorrect, or incomplete information, including details relating to crimes and negative reviews, still listed prominently years later when searching under an individual’s name, perhaps hampering job or romantic prospects.

The right, the result of a Spaniard’s legal challenge over an 11-year-old newspaper notice about debt, has now been embraced beyond the EU, including in Japan and Russia. But in the US, while publicly popular according to opinion polls, such a right remains firmly off the table.

First Amendment

This is in part because the First Amendment is so powerful in American law and in part because US policy views the internet as a neutral tool that efficiently organises the world’s information into a harsh but genuine reality.

Instead, Google instructs US users seeking digital deletion to …

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