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Google Gets Heat for 'Forgetting' BBC Article

Google Gets Heat for 'Forgetting' BBC Article
By Barry Levine

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The controversy stems from the European "right to be forgotten" law. It allows users to ask online service providers like Google to delete information about themselves. Google and the other providers have to comply unless there's a good reason otherwise. However, it seems lawmakers did not take into account that journalistic stories could also be affected.
 


After opposing the "right to be forgotten" law in Europe, Google is now getting criticism for how it is implementing the new regulation. A spokesperson for the European Commission (EC) has said that the company's decision to remove a BBC story from search results was "not a good judgment."

The 2007 blog post by Robert Peston about financial wrong-doing at financial firm Merrill Lynch was taken down as part of the company's massive fulfillment of the "right to be forgotten" ruling. Nevertheless, EC spokesman Ryan Heath said that the court decision should not allow users to "Photoshop their lives." Heath represents Neelie Kroes, the vice president of the EC and a leader of the new European privacy legislation.

"Google clearly has a strong interest in making sure that they're able to work with whatever the legal requirements are, so they position themselves in a particular way over that," he told the BBC.

'New and Evolving'

For its part, Google has said it has looked at and decided on each request individually. However, some observers are suggesting the company is finding it easier to simply comply with every request. "This is a new and evolving process for us," the tech giant said in a statement.

Reportedly, Google is looking at over 250,000 search results that users have said they wanted removed, following more than 70,000 requests by users at the end of May and throughout June. France is the highest-requesting nation, with more than 14,000 requests made during that period, while second-place Germany has over 12,600. The U.K. clocks in at about 8,500.

A reader making a comment under the story, apparently asked Google to remove the link to the Peston post. Now, when someone searches the name of that unnamed commenter, that link will no longer appear. In Europe, that is. Outside of Europe, the commenter could become famous. The EC spokesman is now protesting that this removal goes too far because it impacts journalism. Apparently, the EC did not previously take into account that journalistic stories are on the Internet as well.

However, Peston wrote on his blog that "what Google has done is not quite the assault on public-interest journalism that it might have seemed."

One Repossessed Home

Peston added, "What may be a concern is that this opens the door to a torrent of requests from people who have left comments on blogs and Web sites now asking Google to, in a sense, strike those comments from the record."

The controversy stems from the "right to be forgotten" law that was proposed by the European Commission in 2012. It allows users to ask online service providers to delete information about themselves, and those online service providers have to comply unless there is a good reason otherwise.

The ruling resulted from a case where one Mario Costeja Gonzalez was unable to remove a 1998 notice of his repossessed home from an online posting in a Spanish newspaper.

The law went into effect as part of revision of the nearly 26-year-old Data Protection Directive, although the U.K. Ministry of Justice has said the new law "raises unrealistic and unfair expectations."
 

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