Google reverses decision to delete British newspaper links

Fri Jul 4, 2014 2:52am EDT

A Google search page is reflected in sunglasses in this photo illustration taken in Brussels May 30, 2014.  REUTERS/Francois Lenoir

A Google search page is reflected in sunglasses in this photo illustration taken in Brussels May 30, 2014.

Credit: Reuters/Francois Lenoir

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(Reuters) - Google Inc on Thursday reversed its decision to remove several links to stories in Britain's Guardian newspaper, underscoring the difficulty the search engine is having implementing Europe's "right to be forgotten" ruling.

The Guardian protested the removal of its stories describing how a soccer referee lied about reversing a penalty decision. It was unclear who asked Google to remove the stories.

Separately, Google has not restored links to a BBC article that described how former Merrill Lynch Chief Executive Officer E. Stanley O'Neal was ousted after the investment bank racked up billions of dollars in losses.

The incidents underscore the uncertainty around how Google intends to adhere to a May European court ruling that gave its citizens the "right to be forgotten:" to request the scrubbing of links to articles that pop up under a name search.

Privacy advocates say the backlash around press censorship highlight the potential dangers of the ruling and its unwieldiness in practice. That in turn may benefit Google by stirring debate about the soundness of the ruling, which the Internet search leader criticized the ruling from the outset.

Google, which has received more than 70,000 requests, began acting upon them in past days. And it notified the BBC and the Guardian, which in turn publicized the moves.

The incidents suggest that requesting removal of a link may actually bring the issue back into the public spotlight, rather than obscure it. That possibility may give people pause before submitting a "right to be forgotten" request.

"At least as it looks now, there are definitely some unworkable components," said Electronic Frontier Foundation activist Parker Higgins. "We've seen a number of situations in the past few days, where somebody in an effort to get a certain thing forgotten has brought more attention to it than ever was there before."

"It does make you think that maybe if you're actually trying to make an episode of your history be forgotten, this channel maybe isn’t the best way."

Google's objective is to protect the reliability and effectiveness of its search franchise. It remains uncertain how it adjudicates requests, or how they intend to carry them out going forward.

"Their current approach appears to be an overly broad interpretation," a spokeswoman for the Guardian said. "If the purpose of the judgment is not to enable censorship of publishers by the back door, then we'd encourage Google to be transparent about the criteria it is using to make these decisions, and how publishers can challenge them."

Google, which controls more than 90 percent of European online searches, said it was a learning process.

“This is a new and evolving process for us. We’ll continue to listen to feedback and will also work with data protection authorities and others as we comply with the ruling,” the company said in a statement.

Notifying media outlets about scrubbed links has the effect of enhancing transparency, privacy advocates say. It might also prompt European courts to re-examine aspects of the ruling, including how it affects media outlets' coverage.

"It’s terra incognito for everyone," said Jonathan Zittrain, co-founder of the Berkman Center for Internet and Society. "If sites that receive the notices choose to publicize them in ways that end up boomeranging against the people requesting, that might cause the courts to examine what those sites are doing."

(Reporting by Alexei Oreskovic in San Francisco and Aurindom Mukherjee in Bangalore; Editing by Kirti Pandey and Lisa Shumaker)

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Comments (6)
TRT66 wrote:
Google should publicly post the name of every person or company that makes a request to have their information “forgotten”. If you’re that embarrassed or ashamed of something you did in the past, maybe you shouldn’t have done it in the first place. People have a right to know how you’ve behaved in the past before they decide to do business with you — whether that business is hiring you, going to work for you, investing money with you, or even buying a product from you.

If you’re so untrustworthy that you feel a need to hide from your past, then maybe I don’t need to do business with you today. But the only way I can decide if you’re trustworthy or not is through having that information. And, yes, that works both ways. You should also be free to find out how I’ve behaved in the past too. Freedom of information … it’s not that radical of a concept.

Jul 04, 2014 6:13pm EDT  --  Report as abuse
bluto1960 wrote:
too bad we cant get then to delete the 11+ million illegals here !

Jul 05, 2014 5:36am EDT  --  Report as abuse
adamrussell wrote:
I should be able to delete posts I have made.
I should not be able to delete news articles others have made.
Its censorship on a grand scale.

Jul 05, 2014 11:49am EDT  --  Report as abuse
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