The Herald reports:
Google has been accused of misinterpreting a European court’s “right to be forgotten” ruling by deleting links to apparently harmless news articles in a bid to whip up anger against “censorship”.
Articles about a former Merrill Lynch banker, the singer Kelly Osbourne, a football referee involved in a controversial penalty decision, and a “foul-mouthed” former president of the Law Society were among the first tranche of web stories to be removed from search results, it emerged yesterday.
The move by Google comes weeks after a landmark ruling by the European Court of Justice which upheld the “right to be forgotten” and sparked a debate over how to balance freedom of expression and public interest with the right to privacy.
Details of the first article to be “hidden” by the search engine created a backlash against the court ruling yesterday, but by last night there were growing questions about how Google was handling the take-down requests.
Ryan Heath, spokesman for the European Commission’s vice-president Neelie Kroes, said that Google’s decision to remove a BBC article by the economics editor Robert Peston about the ex-Merrill Lynch boss Stan O’Neal – one of those blamed for helping cause the global financial crisis – was “not a good judgement”.
He said he could not see a “reasonable public interest” for the action, adding that the court ruling should not allow people to “Photoshop their lives”.
That’s exactly what the court ruling allowed. Good on Google for making people aware the impact of the ruling.
Describing Google’s actions as “tactical”, he added: “It may be that they’ve decided that it’s simply cheaper to just say yes to all of these requests.”
Of course it is cheaper. do they really think Google is going to hire 200 lawyers to spend hours or days on each request considering the merits extensively. Of course not. They will take the option with least legal risk, and act on almost all requests – because that is the position the stupid European Court has put them in.
Privacy campaigners accused the internet giant of playing “silly political games” in an attempt to undermine the ruling. Jim Killock, executive director, Open Rights Group, said: “The ruling was clear that results that relate to articles that are in the public interest shouldn’t be removed.”
Who decides the public interest? Google? I don’t want Google deciding the public interest. The decision should be made by individual publishers whether to keep content on the Internet, and not by search engines on whether to index it.
Google is struggling to deal with the volume of demands. Around 70,000 requests for links to be removed have been made in the past month – more than 8,000 [8,497] of which were from Britain – it emerged yesterday. If all demands were met, more than a quarter of a million [267,550] web pages would be deleted – around 34,000 [34,597] as a result of complaints made by people in Britain.
This is why Jimmy Wales called the ruling the biggest threat to free speech on the Internet.
70,000 requests being made per month. If each request takes an hour to consider, then that is 70,000 hours of staff (probably lawyers) time needed per month. So around 450 lawyers needed just to deal with the requests. Sheer madness.
Emma Carr, acting director, Big Brother Watch, cited Google’s decision to remove a link to the blog, which featured “wholly accurate and legal content”, as highlighting “exactly why the ECJ ruling was ridiculous and detrimental to freedom of the press in Europe.”
And Wikipedia’s co-founder Jimmy Wales, a member of an expert panel set up by Google to help it deal with the controversy, condemned the European ruling as “an utter and complete disaster” and branded it “a major human rights violation”. The judgment is “clear and direct censorship of the worst kind,” he said.
It is. But here is the sad thing. If this was a court ruling in almost any other place, the law could just be changed to over-rule the court. But pretty much the only way to get rid of this, is by leaving the EU and the jurisdiction of the European Court.
It is not just Google which is being swamped with demands for links to be removed. The rate at which the BBC is receiving requests for stories to be deleted from its website has prompted the broadcaster to issue new guidance on “unpublishing” content.
David Jordan, BBC director of editorial policy and standards, said: “Sometimes the people we feature in our news reports want the news about themselves to be erased so they can obscure the events they were involved in, or the comments they made to us and stop others finding them.”
The new guidance states that material on the BBC website is part of a “permanently accessible archive” and will not be removed or changed unless there are “exceptional circumstances”. It adds: “Removing online content, particularly news items, risks the accusation that we are erasing the past or altering history.”
On this I agree with the BBC.