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More than 1m Europeans have asked to ‘be forgotten’ by Google and Bing

Cases rose by nearly 30% since start of pandemic
Image: George Milton via Pexels

3 March 2023

Europeans submitted more than 1 million ‘right to be forgotten’ requests to Google and Microsoft Bing with half of the requests being from Western European countries, a study from Surfshark has revealed.

When the Covid-19 pandemic started, ‘right to be forgotten’ cases rose by nearly 30% in 2020. Overall, French requests accounted for nearly a fourth of all submitted requests, while Estonia had the most requests per 10,000 people. Eastern European countries exercised their ‘right to erasure’ the least.

The right to be forgotten allows individuals to ask web pages to delist queries related to their name from European search engine result pages. It applies to countries covered by GDPR (the EU and the EEA) and some other European countries that have adopted similar laws, like the UK and Switzerland. Information about requesters within these webpages widely varies, from personal and professional information to connections with criminal activity. 




From 2015 to 2021, 1,066,274 ‘right to be forgotten’ or ‘right to erasure’ requests were submitted to Google and Bing. Of the two search engines, the vast majority (95.8%) of requests were delivered to Google. 2015 marked the first full year the policy had been in place, where 169,000 requests were submitted throughout the year. 

After 2015, ‘right to be forgotten’ requests gradually decreased until 2020. Cases rose nearly 30% in 2020, totalling 161,300. For example, Cyprus and Portugal submitted almost three times more requests in 2020 than the previous year. 2021 saw an additional 15% increase across the board, with an all-time high of 185,700 requests across the analysed countries. 

France submitted the most ‘right to be forgotten’ requests between 2015 and 2021, with 255.6k requests accounting for nearly a fourth of all requests submitted over this period. 176.1k requests came from Germany, and 125,300 from the UK, with each country accounting for around 17% and 12% of the total, respectively. Requests submitted by these three countries comprise around half of all “right to be forgotten” requests submitted between 2015 and 2020. All other countries account for less than 10% of the total each.

Estonia was in the lead in request density with 53 requests per 10,000 people, followed by France (40), and then the Netherlands (32). Bulgaria submitted the least requests per 10,000 people over the years, with around 6, over three times lower than the average of all the examined countries. 

Western and Northern Europe have the highest request density, with 28 and 21 requests per 10,000 people, respectively. Southern Europe issued 16 requests and Eastern Europe issued eight requests per 10,000 people.

“One of the reasons for the rise in the ‘right to be forgotten’ requests in 2020 could be attributed to the Covid-19 pandemic,” said Gabriele Kaveckyte, privacy counsel at Surfshark. “As many daily activities became virtual, it encouraged people to be more conscious of their digital hygiene and review their privacy online. At the same time, GDPR enforcement accelerated and continues to enforce online privacy as a fundamental human right to this day.”

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