Today I received an email from Google (full email at the bottom of the article) stating that a page on my website had been removed from Google’s search results due to a request based on the new “Right to Forget” European data protection law. The removed page is a blog post about an iPad template I developed in 2012 and released for free so everyone could benefit from it.
It’s been quite a surprise since there’s nothing wrong with it, the blog post doesn’t criticize anyone and there’s nothing that could offend anyone, it’s just me explaining how to implement that template into your own app.
The only part of the page where there are names is in the comments section. So it should be pretty straight-forward to fix this, remove the name of the person and we’re done!
But Google will not disclose the name to be removed “Unfortunately, due to concerns regarding the privacy of the person who submitted the request, Google is not in a position to supply more details than what you’ve already received. We recognize that that means you may not have enough information to respond fully to the removal action.“, what now Google? Do we need to remove EVERYONE’s name?
Nope :) I’ve created a tool to find out who submitted the request so you can discover the requester and remove only his name, fixing this whole incident cleanly and with the minimum changes.
How does a removal under the Right to Forget EU law affect your website?
The affected page will only be hidden from results when searching the person’s name while using a device located in Europe (not just for European domains, even google.com) but the page will still show in other countries outside Europe or when using a search query that doesn’t include the name of that person. So it shouldn’t be too critical and you won’t probably see a traffic hit if the person’s name is not important to the content itself.
In any case, it is never nice to have URLs blacklisted.
Finding who asked to remove our page from Google Results
Sign in to a Google Account and open this spreadsheet:
Create a copy of it by going to File > Make a copy…
Once you have your own copy of the spreadsheet, in cell B4 type your domain name (e.g. xaviesteve.com).
Now go to your removed page and start listing all full names mentioned on your website in column A:
Column B should get updated with a URL. Once you’ve filled in all names, start opening those links:
For example, for the name “Lee Wen” it shows the EU Data Protection Law notice at the bottom yet my page is still showing:
So that name is fine. But check this one out:
That’s a red flag but we’re not done yet, some names may give a false positive, specially names in widgets like Twitter, Facebook comments, Disqus… To check for that go to your page, right click the background and then View page source:
The HTML code of the website will show up. Now search the name, if it doesn’t show up then it belongs to a widget and not your page so it’s not that person, keep searching.
If the name shows up then that’s him:
Bingo! That’s the guy who requested Google to remove my page from the search results when searching his name. So why did he asked to remove my free iPad template from Google Search under the European Right to be Forgotten Law? It’s not that I offended him in any way, I did nothing, in fact it was him who posted a comment and it’s not even offensive at all:
Magash, this was excellent! When I get some time over, I’ll make sure to implant this on my mobile site. You are a true hero, Steve.
Ok, I’ll forgive him for getting my surname wrong, but the reasons he wants to get rid of that could be even more shameful. He might actually be trying to alter the search results for his name, probably my iPad template was showing above his website and knew that Google is quite sensible with the EU law right now. That could be a really easy way to alter the SERPs of a keyword.
Could this be just another way to negative SEO attack websites? The ‘Right to be Forgotten‘ European Law is meant to protect people against “inadequate, irrelevant or no longer relevant” information, not this case… Imagine what would happen if everyone started removing results from Google because they posted a comment they don’t like anymore!
So how do you fix this?
While this should not really affect your website it is nonetheless disturbing to have a URL of your site excluded.
Google provides a European data protection law reinstatement request form in which you can submit a reversal action, but as they say in their email: “we can’t guarantee responses to submissions to that form” so there’s a 99% chance it will be futile. The plan is to replace his name with his initials (I. N.) so he becomes unidentifiable and then submit the Google form. I will update the post with more information such as response time, the reply from Google and results.
Full email from Google
Notice of removal from Google Search Hello, Due to a request under data protection law in Europe, we are no longer able to show one or more pages from your site in our search results in response to some search queries for names or other personal identifiers. Only results on European versions of Google are affected. No action is required from you. These pages have not been blocked entirely from our search results, and will continue to appear for queries other than those specified by individuals in the European data protection law requests we have honored. Unfortunately, due to individual privacy concerns, we are not able to disclose which queries have been affected. Please note that in many cases, the affected queries do not relate to the name of any person mentioned prominently on the page. For example, in some cases, the name may appear only in a comment section. If you believe Google should be aware of additional information regarding this content that might result in a reversal or other change to this removal action, you can use our form at https://www.google.com/webmasters/tools/eu-privacy-webmaster. Please note that we can't guarantee responses to submissions to that form. The following URLs have been affected by this action: