Google ‘forgets’ 170,000 websites

Google has agreed to remove more than 170,000 websites from its search results.

The search engine giant has received nearly 145,000 requests to take down 497,000 websites in the wake of a major court ruling in Europe earlier this year, it said in a report on Friday. Google has complied with about 41 percent of those requests.

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Among the deleted links are decades-old news stories containing the name of an Italian woman whose husband committed murder, an article about a Belgian person who participated in a contest as a minor and some pages containing the names of crime victims.

The company has refused to take down links to stories about people arrested for financial crimes, reports about embarrassing content posted online and articles about a man in the United Kingdom who was fired for sex crimes committed on the job, Google claimed.

Facebook was the site most impacted by the so-called “right to be forgotten” — which allows people to force companies like Google to take down links to websites that are “inadequate, irrelevant or no longer relevant” — followed closely by Profile Engine, a website that aggregates information from social media websites. YouTube, which is owned by Google, was third on the list.

Most of the requests came from France, followed by Germany, the United Kingdom and Spain.

“We believe it’s important to be transparent about how much information we’re removing from search results while being respectful of individuals who have made requests,” Public Policy Manager Jess Hemerly wrote in a blog post unveiling the new report.

“Releasing this information to the public helps hold us accountable for our process and implementation.”

The May decision in the European Court of Justice forcing Google to delete some links sent shockwaves across the Internet and was cheered by some privacy advocates, who have said that old and irrelevant websites can haunt people. It also ignited some fears about possible censorship.

The links have only been removed from European versions of Google, such as google.fr, not google.com.

Europe’s “right to be forgotten” would be harder to establish in the U.S., some constitutional scholars say, because the First Amendment gives broad protections to what can be published.