(Adds details about Google and the ruling, BBC incident)
July 3 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
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
"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
"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