According to newly uncovered data, more than 95% of the “right to be forgotten” requests made to Google in Europe concern ordinary citizens. The Guardian found data traces in the source code of Google’s transparency report and ran an analysis, which led them to conclude that barely 5% of the removal requests involved criminals, politicians, or public figures.
The Guardian writes that of more than 218,000 queries asking Google to scrub search results, 95.6% were for “private personal information.” 48% of the personal requests were granted, which mainly related to information like home addresses and names of family members that had been made public by strangers. One request, for example, involved an individual who contracted HIV a decade ago, while another was from a woman whose name appeared in widely distributed articles about her husband’s death.
Google’s programmers didn’t exactly intend to release a detailed breakdown of hundreds of thousands of privacy requests: The hidden data was left in the transparency report by accident. “We’ve always aimed to be as transparent as possible about our right to be forgotten decisions,” Google told The Guardian in a statement. “The data the Guardian found in our Transparency Report’s source code does of course come from Google, but it was part of a test to figure out how we could best categorise requests. We discontinued that test in March because the data was not reliable enough for publication. We are however currently working on ways to improve our transparency reporting.”
The uncovered data only indicates the nature of the request–say, “child protection” or “political”–and the country from which it came. The requests themselves were not available to The Guardian.