Published by VICE.COM
Summary generated on August 15, 2020
In 2014, German princess Theodora Sayn-Wittgenstein, 27 at the time, attended the University of St Andrews' charity Oktoberfest, got drunk, assaulted police officers and first responders, and said: "I was doing my nails this morning and wondered how many Muslims I could kill." Her family, with the help of Google and Europe's right to be forgotten law, have been trying to make that night disappear.
Twice a year, Google shares data about how governments and corporations make requests to the company in its Transparency Report.
These "Requests that may be of public interest" essentially immortalize a selection of material removed by Google over the last decade.
For Germany, one entry jumps out, identifying "a lawyer's removal request from a member of a German noble family," who was "Prosecuted following a drunken night out in Scotland."
The outcome of the complaint was the removal of 197 links from Google search in Germany following a "Preliminary injunction against a third party that the identifying content is illegitimate."
The right to be forgotten was intended to allow people to control personal and private information about themselves remaining online.
Last year, a research paper written by Google staff noted that between 2014 and 2019, "Non-government public figures such as celebrities requested the delisting of 74,602 URLs and politicians and government officials another 65,933 URLs.".
A German law firm, Schertz Bergmann, sought delisting 249 newspaper articles on Google, citing a preliminary injunction sought against a third party.
In its Transparency Report, Google confirmed the delisting of 197 links after a German court deemed the reporting "Illegitimate."
Google refused to share further details of the request, or the reason behind the decision to delist the articles.
As a result of the delisting, searching "Theodora Sayn-Wittgenstein" outside of Germany shows both results about the princess's 2018 wedding and articles relating to the drunken outburst.
Google alludes to the removal at the bottom of the page.
Not listed are articles from major news outlets in the UK appearing on the first page of Google outside of Germany, but only on the fourth and fifth pages within the country.
When asked if the removal amounts to suppression of free press, a spokesperson from Google said: "Since 2014, we've worked hard to implement the right to be forgotten in Europe, and to strike a sensible balance between people's rights of access to information and privacy." The comment parrots a previous quote given to the BBC after the EU's highest court ruled that Google doesn't have to apply the right to be forgotten globally.
At the end of last month, Germany's top court also ruled, in two separate cases, that the right to information trumps the right to be forgotten.
The rulings stated Google does not have to delist factually correct news articles, even if they're unflattering.
The removal of results about Sayn-Wittgenstein set a precedent suggesting the rich and powerful have more of a right to be forgotten than the average person-or at least the ability to see it enforced.
While the right of erasure has existed in European data laws since 1995, there's been a constant legal struggle between privacy rights and free press.
The right to be forgotten has existed in draft regulation as early as 2012, and has since been incorporated into Article 17 of the General Data Protection Regulation in the EU. In this regulation, it is defined as an "Obligation to erase personal data."
In the context of GDPR, "Exercising the right of freedom of expression and information" is protected.