The controversial ‘right to be forgotten law’ forced on Google search results has come under fire after the BBC received a takedown request for a seven-year-old article criticising a former Merrill Lynch chief executive.
The action, which comes as the internet search company responds to the EU ruling on the “right to be forgotten” by removing articles from its European search rankings, led to accusations of censorship and over-reach.
Google alerted BBC Economics Editor Robert Peston that it would no longer show certain search outcomes linking to his post entitled “Merrill’s mess,” Peston said on his BBC blog yesterday.
The decision followed a May ruling by the European Court of Justice that allows members of the public to request “inadequate, irrelevant, no longer relevant, or excessive” data be deleted from Google searches.
The initial case was brought by a Spanish man who complained that an auction notice of his repossessed home, which appeared on Google’s search results, infringed his privacy.
Google — which opposed the court decision — responded by introducing an online form giving visitors to its European sites a formal route to make removal requests. In the first four days after uploading the form, Google received more than 41,000 requests.
The Streisland effect- a sly move by Google?
One outcome of this high profile case is that it actually puts the ‘forgotten stories’ even more into the spotlight- a phenomenon known as the ‘Streisland effect’.
The Streisand effect refers to a case where singer Barbara Streisland attempted to suppress photos of her home in California back in 2003. This served only to draw more attention to her residence, inadvertently generating more stories about it.
Peston argues that his 2007 article on Merrill Lynch should not have been removed. The piece profiles the track record of a business leader, which Peston says is in the public interest and therefore should not be considered ‘irrelevant or no longer relevant’.
Google itself was also not happy about the ruling as it makes the company responsible for censoring information. Larry Page, one of Google’s founders, said he feared the rulings effect on innovation and censorship.
The move could be seen as a sly move by Google to highlight the flaws of a law it has itself opposed. By potentially over-reacting to all take down requests, Google has shown that the law is very hard to police and can lead to unintended consequences.
Indeed, Bloomberg reports that two senior EU officials said Google’s removal of the BBC article was a misinterpretation of the ECJ’s ruling.
One, who did not want to be named, said: “The ruling and the European Commission have made it clear that the right to be forgotten should not be applied for journalistic work.”
It’s also easy to discover the identity of the person who requested to be forgotten as Google tells users that information may have been removed from search results to comply with the new law.