At the start of the Covid-19 pandemic, “right to be forgotten” cases rose significantly – but more recent data shows a drop after the pandemic ended.

This is according to research from cybersecurity company Surfshark, which analysed the “right to be forgotten” requests to Google and Microsoft Bing to delist information from search engine results. Of the two search engines, the vast majority of requests were delivered to Google.

Most of the requests come from Western countries, with France, Germany, and the United Kingdom accounting for more than half of all “right to be forgotten” requests.

The “right to be forgotten” or “right to erasure” 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 other European countries that have adopted similar laws, like the UK and Switzerland. 2015 marked the first full year the policy had been in place. Information about requesters within these web pages widely varies, from personal and professional information to connections with criminal activity.

After “right to be forgotten” requests rose nearly 30% in 2020 during the Covid-19 pandemic (totaling 161 000) and continued to rise in 2021 to 186 000. During the pandemic, many daily activities became virtual, which may have encouraged people to be more conscious of their digital hygiene and review their privacy online.

In 2022, around 155 000 “right to be forgotten” or “right to erasure” requests were submitted to Google and Bing. It is an almost 20% decrease from the previous year and marks the first decline since the pandemic started in 2020.

Out of the 32 countries that were analysed in 2022, 28 countries showed a decrease in requests.

“Data shows the interest in “right to be forgotten” has stabilised over the recent years,” says Lina Survila, spokesperson for Surfshark. “Interestingly, Western countries are the most active in submitting ‘right-to-be-forgotten’ requests, but there seems to be a lack of engagement or awareness regarding the advantages provided by GDPR among the remaining European nations.

“Elevating public understanding of these initiatives emphasises the GDPR’s role as a catalyst for digital rights protection and privacy enhancement on a global scale.”

In 2022, France, Germany, and the UK made up over 50% of all “right to be forgotten” requests. France submitted the highest number of requests in 2022, with a total of 43 000, which accounted for over a quarter of all submissions. Germany and the United Kingdom ranked second and third, with 24 000 and 16 000 requests. Italy and Spain were fourth and fifth, with 12 000 and 11 000 requests.

Over the last 10 years, the “right to be forgotten” has been exercised in the EU and other countries, resulting in the removal of 6-billion URLs from Google alone. During this period, social networking sites were the most common targets of delisting, with Facebook being featured the most.

A total of 129 000 URLs were requested to be removed from Facebook, two-fifths of which were delisted. X (formerly known as Twitter), YouTube, and Google Groups were second, third, and fifth, with 72 000, 53 000, and 30 000 URLs requested for removal, respectively. Around half of the URLs were successfully delisted for X and Google Groups, while over a third of URLs were removed for YouTube.

By the end of 2022, Google had delisted the highest percentage of sensitive and other personal information URLs, with 97% and 93% delisted, respectively. Criminal information had a delisting rate of 61%. In contrast, Google delisted less than half of the URLs related to professional wrongdoing and other professional information. Political information had the lowest delisting rate, with only one-fifth of all URLs delisted by Google.