back to article Sneaky Google KOs 'right to be forgotten' from search results

Google has never liked privacy laws, and it really hated Europe’s “Right to be Forgotten” ruling in 2014. The RTBF ruling gave private citizens the right to ask for the removal of search entries that contained personal information that was old and irrelevant, for which there was no public interest. It was a privilege …

  1. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Forget future generations

    I'm wondering why we're trusting a Californian consumer data processing corporation which sells ads, right now.

    1. VinceH

      Re: Forget future generations

      Do we trust them?

      I sure as hell don't.

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Forget future generations

      I'm wondering why we're trusting a Californian consumer data processing corporation which sells ads, right now.

      I have a professional duty to read through Terms & Conditions before I accept anything. I don't have the luxury of TL;DR because the buck stops with me, and what hides in the T&Cs of Google, Facebook and any other volume "free" provider is enough to avoid them like Ebola.

      Google's are actually the worst of the lot, because they snuck perpetual licensing conditions in there (although they changed the words in later versions because that was obviously far too direct and alarming), even after you cancel your account. You may be forgotten, but all the useful stuff they'll keep for themselves anyway, and thank you very much for that lovely free content.

      However, that's not the worst trait IMHO. The worst aspect about Google is their sanctimonious stance as soon as something happens that may improve the rights of their users or oh-my-God-that-should-NEVER-happen worse: something affects their ability to milk money out of the personal details of their victims.

      So, I hope they make good on their threat to leave Europe. It'll be a fine day, and I'm looking forward to it.

  2. Adam 52 Silver badge

    Whilst it's nice to bash Google, and I agree that it's search algorithm is affecting research (I had a similar experience researching medical conditions last month) isn't this more likely to be a difference in the way Google and Bing process quotes?

    1. Charlie P

      This is excatly right - you can even see it in the screenshots. The Bing search engine ignores quote marks, whereas Google uses quote marks to ensure that exact sequence of words appears in the page. This is verified by the bootnote, which states that when the quote marks are removed, the Google results return thousands of results.

      This is just very sloppy/blinkered reporting from The Register.

      1. Daggerchild Silver badge

        It is important to report any potential negative effects even if the data isn't complete. You can clarify later if necessary. I have lots of rules I have to obey regarding stuff like this.

        If you're manipulating data for the public it requires establishing clear priorities and no small measure of responsibility.

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward


      I would assume "data" is too common a word. While Bing etc are happy to search with that term, Google may have removed it from a library or two of search terms to save processing power.

      For a fare comparison, we'd need the search without the abbreviation (I find these rarely work well on Google) and without the speech marks.

    3. Dr.Flay

      Perhaps you could use a search engine to check ?


      "The Basics

      Bing’s basic search operators work similarly to Google’s. Search for an exact phrase by surrounding it with quotes:"

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Sure, bing supports quotes, but actually try the query, you'll note that the results it returns don't actually contain the exact phrase. In bing, the quotes make it push results with the exact phrase ahead of those with just the words, with Google, you just plain don't get results lacking the exact phrase.

        1. MiguelC Silver badge

          I, for once, "binged it" and only got 3 results for

    4. veti Silver badge

      In the name of replication...

      I just tried the search strings myself.

      With Google, I got "1020 results", which somehow translates to only one page of actual clickable links. (12 results, to be exact, of which one was to this story, and one other was to a word-for-word copy of it appearing on Two more were to another Reg story of two days ago, and a copy of that appearing in

      One particular interesting result is a paper at the University of Otago, New Zealand, which contains the phrase "right to be forgotten", but not "RTBF". Hmm.

      With Bing, I got three results. They didn't include this story, but did include the copy, so at least I wouldn't be missing out.

      Trust Google? Well, maybe I'll think a little better of them when they give me a way to see the other 1008 results. But probably not.

  3. Dan 55 Silver badge

    of every $1 spent on advertising in the first quarter of this year, $0.85 goes to Facebook and ... Google

    I do hope that's online advertising.

    1. gazthejourno (Written by Reg staff)

      That is indeed for online advertising. You get a bit blinkered when you're working in online media and see the main revenue stream drying up before your eyes.


  4. Michael B.

    I think it's personal

    When I search for the same string I get a "full" set of results in Google ( about 501 results). I think Google just don't like you.

    1. AIBailey

      Re: I think it's personal

      Similar here - I get 496 results. Ironically, the top search result is a link to this article.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: I think it's personal

        "...Ironically, the top search result is a link to this article."

        It's funny when people on a tech forum ask for assistance finding something obscure, so you run a quick search to try to assist them, and Google finds only their question (the one you just read).

        1. tfewster

          Re: I think it's personal

          Or, more generally:

        2. DiViDeD

          Re: I think it's personal

          "Google finds only their question (the one you just read)."

          Had that just recently. I'm on a contract with a Major Financial Institution(tm) which uses an obscure (but commercial) library to connect to some pretty old hardware. If there was any documentation for it, it's been lost years ago.

          So I go onto Google to see if there's any guidance available. I got a little over a page of results, every one of which was from former employees/contractors of this noble institution, all asking the same thing as me.

          Talk about consistent results!

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: I think it's personal

      When I search for the same string I get a "full" set of results in Google ( about 501 results). I think Google just don't like you.

      The irony of your comment is that that is indeed actually possible for Google, which is a worrying development in itself.

      Having said that, I don't think it changes the content of the article much as it's still quite on the ball. Even if the stats don't quite add up, there's something profoundly evil about Google which everyone is at pains to keep looking away from, a sort of Microsoft 2.0.

      1. allthecoolshortnamesweretaken

        Re: I think it's personal

        So G00gle is like an evil Microsoft...

    3. veti Silver badge

      Re: I think it's personal

      But how many of those are actual results?

      Try paging through the results, see how far you get. I got '1020 results', but only 12 actual links.

  5. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Perhaps it's the acronym

    If you use the acronym RTBF then you don't get that many results, but use "right to be forgotten", with or without the data processing business bit, and you get thousands. Perhaps Google's search algorithms don't give much weight to fairly obscure acronyms? I think you're letting your attitude to Google lead you to paranoid conclusions.

    1. heyrick Silver badge

      Re: Perhaps it's the acronym

      Thank you Credas for explaining the acronym. I got all the way to your comment while wondering what the hell was going on between Google and a Belgian broadcaster.

  6. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

    If they can handle stuff they don't want to be found like this it makes a mockery of any claim that RTBF would be too difficult to implement.

  7. Dr Paul Taylor

    What's sauce for the goose...

    After they had been forced to implement technology for censorship, it is hardly surprising that they use it for their own purposes. This is the same argument as Apple's "back door".

  8. Anonymous Coward

    El Reg just lost the Google game...

    rtbf "data processing business": 9 results,

    right to be forgotten "data processing business": 74,500,000 results

    weak Googling skills more like.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: El Reg just lost the Google game...


      "right to be forgotten" "data processing business": 4 results

      right to be forgotten: 192M results.

      What are you trying to say?

    2. EddieD

      Re: El Reg just lost the Google game...

      then you're googling "right" or "to" or "be" or "forgotten" any or all of which and "data processing business" which will return a shed load of results.

      "right to be forgotten" "data processing business" returns about 800 results.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: El Reg just lost the Google game...

        That's a fair point - however - my point still stands: it's not a good search term.

    3. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: El Reg just lost the Google game...

      Bing: RTBF "data processing business" : About 10,000 results. Of those which do have the actual phrase "data processing business" AND RTBF - about zero.

      For this conspiracy to work the search engines have to process the search string the same way and you have to find pages that have the specific phrase and other search terms on the same page and is indexed but isn't shown.

      I prefer Google's stance on the search terms. Anything you have in quotes must appear exactly as stated on the page with a verbatim option to stop allowing replacement for similar words.

      1. Daggerchild Silver badge

        Re: El Reg just lost the Google game...

        Ding Ding! Correct answer.

        If you look at the article screenshots, you can see the Google results highlighting the quoted string. In the Bing result, you see single separated words highlighted, meaning Google searched for two rare strings, and Bing etc searched for one rare string, and up to three common ones.

      2. Aedile

        Re: El Reg just lost the Google game...

        He did do a great job highlighting why I don't use Bing. I like my results to actually be about what I searched for.

  9. ratfox

    Now it's the reverse

    Right now, Bing only returns two results for rtbf "data processing business", at least for me. And both of them are on the Register. Google says it finds a thousand results… But there's actually only one page of them. Go figure.

    1. Daggerchild Silver badge

      Re: Now it's the reverse

      "Right now, Bing only returns two results for rtbf "data processing business", at least for me. And both of them are on the Register"

      That implies that before it spidered the Reg article it had NO matching results for BOTH fixed strings, so Bing stripped the quotes and tried again.

      Which implies that Bing's results pool is smaller than Google's.

  10. Phil Koenig


    The dumbing-down of search engines over the last 10+ years has left us with a situation where the majority of the popular ones (except Google, interestingly) completely ignore double-quotes as a way of trying to specify only a specific string of words in a particular order.

    So the first problem is that the non-Googly services are likely interpreting your query entirely differently than how Google does.

    And then of course there's the infamous "tunnel vision" issue with Google and others serving you customized results. Are you searching from a clean device/browser, cookies cleared, not logged-in to any other Google services/sites?

    1. gazthejourno (Written by Reg staff)

      Re: Syntax

      I had friends on completely different machines in a separate geographical location repeat the Google query. And they had the same result.

      1. P. Lee

        Re: Syntax

        Maybe they complied with the law and then issued themselves with a "right to be forgotten" notice.

      2. frank ly

        Re: Syntax

        So all we can say is that it needs more research. Friday afternoon would be a good time for that.

      3. Phil Koenig

        Re: Syntax

        Thanks. Well who knows, then. All sorts of complicated voodoo going on with Google's search, that much seems certain.

        One thing I would have tried was just to use the acronym and see what kind of results show up. And then add additional terms until the results disappear.

      4. #define INFINITY -1

        Re: Syntax

        We are playing 'go' with google.

      5. heyrick Silver badge

        Re: Syntax

        Just tried it on Dolphin (with all cookies nuked). "About 1030 results", of which this article is in top position. Is using as redirected me based upon location.

      6. Captain DaFt

        Re: Syntax

        "I had friends on completely different machines in a separate geographical location repeat the Google query. And they had the same result."

        And then, after this article goes online, people try it and get wildly varying results... How fast does that Google algorithm adapt?

    2. Mark 65

      Re: Syntax

      And then of course there's the infamous "tunnel vision" issue with Google and others serving you customized results. Are you searching from a clean device/browser, cookies cleared, not logged-in to any other Google services/sites?

      The author covered that by using "duck duck go" no? They also got the same results.

      1. Phil Koenig

        Re: Syntax

        Actually he described DDG as "Google scraping", eg, uses Google search results.

        Which would explain that particular bit, but I was actually not of the impression that DDG used Google as a source. I thought they pulled their results from a variety* of sources, including their own spider.

        *(~400 sources, was the figure I recall. Neither do I think Google is amongst them.)

    3. MJI Silver badge

      Re: Syntax

      I _HATE_ the quote ignoring.

      I am looking for exact text and cannot find it due to search engine ineptitude.

  11. Version 1.0 Silver badge


    Google fiddle with their search algorithms all the time, and these days it tries to fit the results to what it "thinks" you are looking for or likely to purchase. In terms of accurate search "results" it's been deteriorating for some time. Given their market share of course we have to kowtow to Google but functionally they are following the same evolutionary path as most large tech companies - sooner or later (it could be 10 years or so) their search engine business will hire a Marissa Mayer-like leader to revitalize their market position and that will be the end of them after a few more years.

  12. Zippy's Sausage Factory

    Happens on StartPage too

    By the Flying Spaghetti Monster's Noodly Tentacles, do I have to start using Bing now? Ugh...

  13. Paul 25

    Never has El Reg down as tinfoil hat wearers.

    Searching for [right to be forgotten "data processing business"] returns 74 million results.

  14. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Just don't do anything

    to get your name on the Interwebs in the first place.

    If you ain't there, you can't be forgotten now can you.

    As this applies to most of the population then...

    As for me, (posting anon so as to not temp fate) I have a name that is not that uncommon (there were three of us in my secondary school). I google for myself about every six months and so far (touching wood) the Chocolate Factory does not have a file on me.

    Long may that continue.

  15. John Lilburne

    It is more than Orwellian

    "Why would any mature society trust its digital archive to a Californian consumer data processing corporation that sold ads."

    Why would any mature society allow the same company to build a database of everyone's reading list, the music they listen to, the videos they watch, where they go, and who they communicate with?

    If this was a State we'd have some very harsh words to say about it. As it is this company appears to be at the centre of governments. Pumping $millions into political lobbying every week or so.

  16. AndrewDu

    Adam 52 is correct.

    If you use ixquick (the EU's favoured search engine) you get just the Bruce Schneier link plus this very article from El Reg if you include the quotes in the search string.

    Without them you get pages and pages and pages...ixq doesn't seem to give a hit count by default and I don't use it much so I can't be arsed looking for the setting.

  17. alanom

    Look at the actual results Reg

    Sorry Reg, but this story is nonsense, and you can see this just by looking at the screenshots you processed:

    1) Bing is finding extra results because it's ignoring the double quotes and finding results that contain the words "data" "processing" and "business" even when they're not consecutive. (this is actually exactly why I don't use Bing - respect the user, dammit!)

    2) Bing is also finding extra results because it's treating RTBF as a synonym of the string "Right to be forgotten", and is matching on both. Google is only showing results containing the acronym "RTBF". Again, Bing is trying to be clever on the user's behalf, Google is being strict to what the user asked for.

    No conspiracy. Move along, people, nothing to see here...

  18. Tromos

    You have the right to forget Google and Facebook

    Use it.

  19. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Why just Google?

    I would assume other search engines hate RTBF just as much.

    Good luck to anyone trying to claim that right, however. You're better off exercising your right to encryption, privacy, and anonymity.

  20. Anonymous Coward

    This article has a...

    right to be forgotten.

    1. Daggerchild Silver badge

      Re: This article has a...

      Actually, it's fascinating - the article *is* a placebo (or nocebo), intentional or not.

      The Reg recently wanted to know what its readership was like. Well.. this is actually a damn good statistical experiment for working out a baseline.

  21. Dr.Flay

    They do this all the time.

    When they first introduced their data collection exclusion option, you could not find it via google once you gave up the fruitless hunt via their own instructions.

    Other search engines found it easily.

    BTW. I used google UK to search for rtbf "data processing business" and see 9 results, expandable to "About 1,010 results" 4 pages of results.

    If I try to access one of the other pages, google says there are no results.

  22. andrewj

    So basically all this shows is that Bing, Yahoo et al don't actually search for what you try to make them search for specifically, whereas Google does. Foot, shoot, self, "Register hack".

  23. Scott Broukell

    I think I'm fine with this, I mean at my age, by the time I have warmed up the computer and the monitor, poured myself a cuppa, then loaded up a browser, I've usually forgotten what I was looking for in the first place anyway - google or no google.

  24. Jamesit

    I just did the search through Tor and this is what I got

    403. That’s an error.

    Your client does not have permission to get URL /sorry/IndexRedirect?continue= from this server. That’s all we know.


    the same as El Reg


    same as DDG

    Sorry, Unable to process request at this time -- error 999.


    Unfortunately we are unable to process your request at this time. This error is usually temporary. Please try again later.

    If you continue to experience this error, it may be caused by one of the following:

    You may want to scan your system for spyware and viruses, as they may interfere with your ability to connect to Yahoo!. For detailed information on spyware and virus protection, please visit the Yahoo! Security Center.

    This problem may be due to unusual network activity coming from your Internet Service Provider. We recommend that you report this problem to them.

    While this error is usually temporary, if it continues and the above solutions don't resolve your problem, please let us know.

    Return to Yahoo!

    Please try Yahoo! Help Central if you need more assistance.

  25. JeffyPoooh

    Google: RTBF "Arctic Penguins"

    2 results (0.34 seconds)

    Conspiracy I say!!

    (Example found on my 5th try. Not bad.)


  26. Seanie Ryan


    from the article: "Or is it? Google's defence in the RTBF trial was that it was a mere "data processing company""

    so why google for "data processing business"

    surely it would be more accurate to google for "data processing company" ??

    and as much as i don't like google, if others have the right to have listings removed, then surely that give Google the right to remove listings about themselves that they don't want? Good for goose and all that. Sometimes you have to be careful what you wish for...

  27. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Google on: rtbf "data processing business"

    Google on: rtbf "data processing business" .. about 1,020 results (0.74 seconds)

    1. gazthejourno (Written by Reg staff)

      Re: Google on: rtbf "data processing business"

      That has definitely changed since this story was published. Just tested it myself and I'm also now getting 1,020 results, not two.

      1. DaLo

        Re: Google on: rtbf "data processing business"

        Read the comments you just don't understand the way Google searching works. It's no mystery, if you search for RTBF "data processing business" with verbatim on you still only get a few results (more than the initial two as some sites have added this story.

        However the reason you are getting over 1000 results is due to Google deciding to expand the initialism and search for both RTBF and Right To Be Forgotten, which it wasn't before. So it is now allowing more ways to find the information. Bing et al are still ignoring quotes for phrases with limited results.

        This really is a non-story with the current 'evidence' provided.

  28. 27escape

    Maybe google are not good at searching

    in google search google "data processing business" gives 19700 results

    in bing search google "data processing business" gives 2.8 million results

  29. allthecoolshortnamesweretaken

    "Google hates being called a "data processing business", perhaps even more than it hates the so-called RTBF."

    Good to know, thank you!

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