It turns out that those in the European Union asking Google to “forget” links they don’t like that appearing for searches on their names are also getting links removed for any search that involves their names and additional words, rather than just their names alone.
Until now, it wasn’t clear that Google was removing links for more than just names on their own. But the company has confirmed to me that this is the situation.
Filtering For More Than Just The Name
To understand, let’s assume there’s someone named “Emily White” who doesn’t like that a search for her name on Google brings up information about her having gone bankrupt.
White, who let’s say lives in London, makes a request for Google to drop the links under the EU’s Right To Be Forgotten mandate. Google grants this. As a result, the links would no longer show up for these situations:
1) Searches for just “emily white”
2) Searches for her name plus other words, such as “emily white bankrupt” or “emily white london”
Any search involving her name along with other words would have the forgotten links filtered out. White wouldn’t have to provide a list of descriptive terms to go along with her name. Just the presence of her name in a search would be enough to trigger the filtering.
What’s Not Filtered
Filtering only happens for EU-versions of Google. A service like Google.com or Google Canada would be unaffected.
Links are also not filtered if no name is involved. For example, consider these searches:
1) “bankrupt in london”
2) “people in london who have gone bankrupt”
Let’s assume that, for some reason, the links that White objected to were somehow showing up for these very general searches. That’s unlikely, but it is possible. Her request to be forgotten wouldn’t cause them to be dropped for these searches. That’s because the searches don’t involve her name.
It’s also important to understand that if there’s a different “Emily White” with links of some sort that show up, the actions of the first “Emily White” don’t impact the second. Only the links that the first Emily White requested to be removed will be pulled.
In fact, let’s assume there were two different Emily Whites who went bankrupt. We’ll call them Emily1 and Emily 2. Let’s say when you searched on Google UK for “emily white,” you got a link that was only about Emily1, a link only about Emily2 and a link that was about both of them.
Emily1 puts in a request to have the link about her and the link about her and Emily2 pulled. If granted, those links would disappear. However, the link about Emily2 alone would remain. For that to go, Emily 2 would have to put in her own request.
Clearing The Confusion
I’ve been asking Google for clarification on this point since back in May, when the Right To Be Forgotten as it applies to search results was established. I have to apologize for writing last week that this was applicable to searches involving only names alone, which I’ve since corrected in my Thanks To “Right To Be Forgotten,” Google Now Censors The Press In The EU article.
I’d finally gotten an answer back from Google on the question and misread it as saying only names themselves, on their own, were impacted. But Chris Moran, the SEO over at The Guardian, tweeted to me yesterday that his colleague Charles Arthur had a story Monday where his sources were saying the filtering involved any use of a name.
I tweeted back that this was wrong, based on what I thought Google had told me. But when I did some double-checking, I realized my mistake (and sorry, Chris).