Google has delisted 628 URLs as a result of requests from users in Malta since a landmark EU judgement on the ‘right to be forgotten’ seven years ago.
However, 1,755 requests from Malta were rejected, giving the country an approval percentage of 26.4%, one of the lowest in Europe and way below the total 46.9% acceptance rate.
Only Portugal (25.4%) and Cyprus (25.3%) have a lower acceptance rate than Malta.
Back in May 2014, the European Court of Justice ruled that people have a right to ask internet search engines to delist results that mention their names.
The search engine must comply if the links in question are “inadequate, irrelevant or no longer relevant, or excessive,” and must take into account whether the information is in the public interest.
When Google agrees in favour of the individual, it delists URLs including their names from all of its European search results and uses geolocation signals to restrict access to the URL from the country of the requester.
And while the search engine obviously can’t say who is requesting the ‘right to be forgotten’ and why, it has attempted to be transparent in the kind of requests it receives, collecting and publishing metadata about the requests since January 2016.
Since that date, Google has received 574 delisting requests from Malta on behalf of private individuals, 28 from politicians or government officials, 11 from non-governmental public figures, 14 from minors and 14 from corporate entities.
Some of these requests would have been to delist several URLs at once.
When analysing the websites targeted for delisting, Google found that 693 were for news items, 217 for government websites (which include the court website), 187 for social media, and 102 from directories. The majority, 828, are classified as miscellaneous.
In terms of the type of information requested for delisting from Maltese users, 326 were related to crime, 311 were related to professional wrongdoing, and 331 to professional information, which includes details such as requester’s work address, contact information, or general information about their business activities.
And 11.1% of requests were classified as ‘other’, which would incorporate personal, political, and self-authored content.
Although Google didn’t state how many of these requests were classified as political, it certainly received a couple of political requests from Malta – amounting to 5% of news, 3% of social media and 6% of miscellaneous content requested for delisting.
However, a graph plotting URL delisting rates indicates that none of these political requests were accepted.
Times of Malta is the Maltese website most impacted by the ‘right to be forgotten’, with 56 of its URLs delisted. It’s followed by The Malta Independent (40 delisted URLs), MaltaToday (23 delisted URLs), and the Justice Ministry’s website (12 delists).
For all these websites, the number of requests rejected was higher than the number of requests accepted.
All these figures are over and above requests made directly to the government to wipe entire court judgments from the national online court website. As of May 2019, 112 judgments were pulled offline, an acceptance rate of around 72%.
Lovin Malta has asked the Justice Ministry for more updated figures.
Proponents of the right to be forgotten argue that with information just a click away, people risk being forever linked to wrongdoings they had committed in the past, therefore preventing full rehabilitation.
However, critics have warned that it provides a gateway for criminals to whitewash their own pasts, eroding the right of the general public to know what they’ve done.