Saturday 20 December 2014

Google removes half of requested links under the EU's 'right to be forgotten' ruling

Published 28/07/2014 | 08:36

A Google logo is seen at the entrance to the company's offices in Toronto in this file photo taken September 5, 2013.  Google Inc said October 17, 2013 that consolidated revenue rose to $14.89 billion in the third quarter from $13.3 billion in the year-ago period.  REUTERS/Chris Helgren/Files  (CANADA - Tags: BUSINESS LOGO)
A Google logo is seen at the entrance to the company's offices in Toronto in this file photo taken September 5, 2013

Google has agreed to more than 50pc of requests to remove links from its search results under the European Union’s recently-introduced ‘right to be forgotten’ legislation.

These latest figures were revealed as Google met with data protection regulators from across the European Union last week to explain its handling of the ruling. The company has even been accused of deliberately mishandling the decision to stoke public anger.

Regulators have criticized the company’s approach, which has resulted in greater publicity for the ruling while also making it easy for EU citizens to bypass its effects (by, say, switching from a local version of Google to Google.com).

"Google is a massive commercial organisation making millions and millions out of processing people's personal information. They're going to have to do some tidying up,” said the UK’s Information Commissioner Christopher Graham on Radio 5 live yesterday.

"All this talk about rewriting history and airbrushing embarrassing bits from your past - this is nonsense, that's not going to happen," he said, adding that Google should regard certain incidents as “spent convictions” – the name for criminal offences that can be ignored after a period of time in the interests of rehabilitation.

He added that despite the debate over censorship and freedom of speech that the decision has sparked, people should not be stopped from being allowed to move on from incidents in their past.

The US company has said that since the legislation was passed in late May it has received requests from some 91,000 individuals covering roughly 328,000 URLs, with the greatest number of requests coming from France, followed by Germany and then the UK.

Although Google has not revealed the exact process by which it judges whether links should be removed it has requested additional information in about 15 per cent of cases and rejected 30 per cent of them outright.

Since the ‘right to be forgotten’ law came into place there have been numerous examples where the removal of a search link has only led to more attention – a phenomenon known as the Streisand effect and named after Barbra Streisand’s ill-fated attempt to suppress photographs of her house in 2003.

One of the first UK search results that was removed related to a blog by BBC economics editor Robert Peston covering a former Merrill Lynch executive involved in the financial crisis of 2007-08.

Peston highlighted the removal with an article titled “Why has Google cast me into oblivion?” although it was later revealed that the removal request had not come from the banker himself but from a commenter on the article.

A website to log edited search results has also been set up, although its creator, Afaq Tariq,  has said that he does not see the issue as black and white and admits that some links may have been removed deservingly.

"If enough people voice their opinion and say that this site causes more harm than good, I would be the first to consider its removal,” said Mr Tariq of his website.

Independent News Service

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