Ad Association Misses The Point Of Right To Be Forgotten, Says Consumer Watchdog; Public Interest Group Says Consumer Privacy Protections Are Not Censorship

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SANTA MONICA, CA — Consumer Watchdog today said an advertising association’s letter to the Federal Trade Commission misunderstands the Right To Be Forgotten and added that consumer privacy protections are not censorship.

The Association of National Advertisers (ANA) today sent a letter asking the FTC to reject Consumer Watchdog’s complaint that Google’s failure to offer U.S. users the ability to request the removal of search engine links from their name to information that is inadequate, irrelevant, no longer relevant, or excessive is an “unfair and deceptive” practice.

Under the Right To Be Forgotten in Europe the Internet giant has removed 41.3 percent of such links from search results when requested.

“We’re not asking that content be removed from the Internet,” said John M. Simpson, Consumer Watchdog’s Privacy project director. “We are asking that Google – not the government — honor requests to take down search links from a person’s name to content that is no longer relevant. Google can easily offer this basic privacy protection to consumers on this side of the Atlantic.”

View Consumer Watchdog’s July 7 complaint here:

The ANA incorrectly asserts that Consumer Watchdog is asking Google “to edit the past under the supervision of federal regulators.”

“We’re not asking the government to decide what links should be removed,” said Simpson. “We are simply saying that Google – and other search engines – should be required to have a procedure in place to consider such requests.”

In deciding whether to grant removal requests a balance must be struck between the public’s right to know and the individual’s right to privacy, Consumer Watchdog said.

According to its “Transparency Report,” since Google began considering Right To Be Forgotten requests in Europe in May 2014, Google has received 282,508 removal requests. The Internet giant evaluated 1,027,495 URLs for removal from its search results, and has dropped 359,803 or 41.3 percent.  It declined to remove 511,623, or 58.7 percent of the links.

Google could easily honor Americans’ Right To Be Forgotten requests the same way as it does in Europe, Consumer Watchdog said. The Internet giant’s June 19 announcement that it would honor requests to remove links from its search results to so-called “revenge porn” – nude or explicit photos posted without the subject’s consent – underscores the fact that Google could easily honor Right To Be Forgotten requests in the U.S., Consumer Watchdog said

Consumer Watchdog’s complaint to the FTC listed some examples of people who have been harmed by Google’s refusal to honor Right To Be Forgotten removal requests in the United States. Here are the examples:

•    A young California woman was decapitated in a tragic auto accident.  Photos from the grisly accident scene were wrongfully leaked by California Highway Patrol officers and posted to the Internet.  A search on her or her family’s name still returns the horrible photographs.

•    A guidance counselor was fired in 2012 after modeling photos from 20 years prior surfaced. She was a lingerie model between the ages of 18-20, and she had disclosed her prior career when she first was hired. Despite this, when a photo was found online and shown to the principal of her school, she was fired.

•    A Florida doctor locked herself in the bedroom to hide from her violent boyfriend. He used a steak knife to jimmy the door open. As he entered she scratched his chest with her fingernails. When the police arrived, both she and her boyfriend were arrested, her boyfriend having claimed the scratches on his chest were from the knife. She was charged with aggravated assault with a deadly weapon and battery domestic violence. The charges against were soon dropped. Soon after her photo showed up on a mug shot website. Anyone who Googled her name found this information as one of the top results. The mug-shot websites demanded hundreds of dollars to remove the photos.


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John M. Simpson
John M. Simpson
John M. Simpson is an American consumer rights advocate and former journalist. Since 2005, he has worked for Consumer Watchdog, a nonpartisan nonprofit public interest group, as the lead researcher on Inside Google, the group's effort to educate the public about Google's dominance over the internet and the need for greater online privacy.

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