Google’s BBC Blog Search Block Spreads Confusion

Peter Judge has been involved with tech B2B publishing in the UK for many years, working at Ziff-Davis, ZDNet, IDG and Reed. His main interests are networking security, mobility and cloud

Google has applied the “right to be forgotten” to searches for a BBC blog – amid rising criticism

Google has promised to be clearer in its implementation of the European “right to be forgotten“, after it caused confusion by deleting links to a BBC blog and restoring other links it had deleted after the sites in question protested. The European Union has responded that the ruling does not give EU citizens a right to “Photoshop their lives”.

Google removed search links to a blog, by Robert Peston the BBC’s economics editor along with links to stories on The Guardian, Daily Mail and other sites, following requests made under an ruling that EU citizens have the right to have inaccurate material on themselves removed from Google searches. The Mail and Guardian appealed the Google removal, while the BBC item has led to confusion as to who asked for the material to be removed and why.

Erase delete forget right to be forgotten key © Sarawut Aiemsinsuk ShutterstockDeliberate Google confusion?

Google has been a staunch critic of the European law, implementing it under protest, and some have suggested that its first actions under the law were deliberately clumsy in order to discredit the ruling.

“It is clearly a difficult process,” Google’s European director of communications told the BBC’s Today programme. “We are committed to doing it as responsibly as we possibly can. We are learning as we go. I’m sure we will get better at it and we are very keen to listen to the feedback.”

A 2007 Robert Peston blog entitled “Merrill’s Mess” about the fall of Merrill Lynch was taken out of a very limited Google search links – but only the searches made on European Google sites, and only when those searches include the name of the person who asked for it to be de-listed. The blog post remains online, linked within and outside BBC sites, and is easily found by most Google searches.

The BBC and other news sites received notification of stories which had been taken out of Google search results under the right to be forgotten – but these notifications do not say who has requested the removal.

Peston initially thought the take-down was requested by Stan O’Neal, chair of Merrill Lynch in 2007, but as a US citizen, O’Neal would not have been able to make the request. It emerged that the result was taken out on request of a person named in the comments below the story, but Internet users have so far not pinpointed which one, or come up with a convincing reason why any of the commenters could request removal of the result.

Less mysterious is the case of Dougie McDonald, a Scottish football referee who lied about a penalty in the Scottish FA Cup according to stories in the Guardian and Daily Mail, which were taken out of searches on McDonald’s name, and then reinstated after appeals by the two newspapers.

250,000 pages to go?

Google reports having received requests from 70,000 people, after an initial surge of such queries tailed down to about 1000 a day. With each person asking for 3 or 4 links to be removed that could come to more than 250,ooo requests.

Requests are apparently being dealt with by an army of hastily-recruited “paralegals” – non-lawyers given a legal task to do.

Peston claimed he had been “cast into oblivion” (when the reverse was the case), and Ryan Heath, a spokesman for EU vice president Neelie Kroes said Google’s decision on the Peston blog was “not a good judgement” and added that the ruling was not a licence for people to “Photoshop their lives”.

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