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Google Shows Sites That Get Most ‘Right to be Forgotten’ Requests, More Than 500K Pages Removed

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When Google removes a search result, it doesn't always mean the underlying web page vanishes too. Photograph by Michael Gottschalk — Photothek via Getty Images

Google published a report Monday that provides new insight into how it responds to Europe’s controversial “right to be forgotten,” a law that allows people to force the company to remove certain web pages from its search results in the name of privacy.

The new data shows that search results for Facebook (FB) are the most popular target for “right to be forgotten” requests, and that other sites in the top 10 include YouTube and Twitter. The second most popular target for such requests is a “people search” site that creates profiles of individuals by scraping data from social media sites.

The Google (GOOG) report also provides some hard numbers about just how many people are invoking the “right to be forgotten,” which took on legal force early this year when a European court said citizens could demand that Google scrub information that is “irrelevant” or “inadequate.”

Since then, the requests have been pouring in. According to the new Google data, the company has received 347,533 separate requests seeking to remove about 1.2 million websites. Google complied in 42% of the cases, meaning that over half a million results have disappeared from the European versions of its search engines.

When Google removes a search result, it does not necessarily mean that the underlying web page vanishes too. But without the search listing, it is much harder for someone to locate the information—many liken the process to removing items from a library’s card catalog.

Critics of the “right to be forgotten” say it amounts to a form of censorship, and that it can provide a way for criminals or powerful people to cover up their misdeeds. Supporters, on the other hand, argue it is a way for people to ensure stories about their past mistakes or personal tragedies don’t surface every time someone searches for them on the Internet.

Until now, however, it is been unclear exactly how many people have been triggering the “right to be forgotten.” In July, The Guardian discovered a Google data leak that showed the company received about 218,000 requests—this figure, along with the newly published stats, roughly suggest the number of requests is doubling every six months.

The data also shows that people in France have filed the highest number of “right to be forgotten” requests, followed by those in Germany and the U.K. Individuals in smaller countries are using it too: People in Iceland made 259 requests.

It also turns out Google is more likely to grant the requests in certain countries than others. French and Germans obtained their wishes about half the time, while Italian requests to remove information were successful only 30% of the time.

Google did not immediately respond to a request for comment about the new data or its implications.

Meanwhile, the controversy over the “right to be forgotten” is unlikely to abate: Google is now locking legal horns with France and other countries that are seeking to expand how far the “forgotten” orders should apply. Right now, the orders typically apply only to national Google sites within Europe’s borders. (For instance, a censored search result may vanish from “Google.fr” but not from “Google.com.”) French authorities, however, insist that Google must scrub the results on a global basis, which could mean that search results would disappear for American users based on a European’s request. At the same time, a court in Canada recently declared that its order to remove results should apply to Google worldwide.

It is unclear how Google will respond if more judges seek to apply their country’s laws beyond their borders. So far, it appears the country is responding in part by being more aggressive about “redirecting” Google.com visitors to national versions of the website.

The data published Monday appeared as part of an update to Google’s so-called Transparency Report, a document that reports how often companies and countries ask to remove information from the Internet for a variety of reasons, including copyright.

For more about Google and where it is going, check out this recent clip of Fortune’s Alan Murray interviewing founder Larry Page:

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