back to article 'Inaccurate' media misleads public on European Court's Google ruling

“Inaccurate reporting” of Google’s fight against privacy rights in Europe last month risks misleading the public, says the Information Commissioner's Office – which safeguards those rights in the UK. When a Spanish citizen demanded the removal of links in search results to news articles mentioning an old debt, Google claimed …


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  1. Derichleau

    The DPA will only impact on Google if they are a UK-based data controller. However, I wasn't able to find anything in Google's privacy policy to indicate that they are a UK data controller. As with and, you tend to find that global companies are registered in Europe rather than in the UK so that they can bypass the DPA.

    For example, Anyone buying Amazon's Kindle Fire will have to to pay £10 to remove the advertising. If were bound by the DPA you could ask them to remove it by opting out of all direct marketing under section 11 of the DPA for free.

    1. Andrew Orlowski (Written by Reg staff)

      While it's a fascinating idea that we haven't got round to joining the EU yet, I'm afraid I have to break some bad news. The UK DPA incorporates EU law.

      The European Court of Justice dealt with Google's loophole defence that it was based outside the EU. The ICO's blog on the ruling is linked to in the article:

      In addition, what Google claims in its Privacy Policy (sic) is neither here nor there.

      1. big_D Silver badge

        I must say, I was astounded at how poorly this was reported in the mainstream press and then through US tech media.

        I was listening to TWIT on Sunday and Mike Elgan said a "lone" Spanish judge had made the decision!

        This Week in Google wasn't any better, surprise, surprise.

        1. Andrew Orlowski (Written by Reg staff)

          Jimmy Wales gave quite a performance on Andrew Marr. In five minutes, I don't think Jimbo said anything that resembles a truthful statement.


          Marr: So in theory, if I am a corrupt business person and I have had a series of convictions and so forth in the past, I can apply to Google saying I don't want people to know about this any more. And a committee on which you sit will have to decide the rules by which I'm successful or fail.

          Wales: Well er, I'm advising er, Google, and basically I have joined this panel with Google. But it's not just about advising Google what to do. I think I view us having a broader remit, asking: 'how should we change the law so we can better strike a better balance between privacy and free speech'? So we don't end up with these very clumsy cases where Google has to determine whether a news story is something they're legally allowed to link to or not. That's a very hard position….that's a kind of decision that should be left to courts, at best.

 -> starts at 20:20.

  2. Jason Bloomberg Silver badge

    Understatement of the century?

    But bear in mind, when Google says the sky is falling, it doesn’t mean it necessarily is. And like any powerful corporation, it may have an agenda of self-interest.

    "May have an agenda of self interest"?

    I believe it is self-evident that Google does and, wanting to whatever Google wants to do, explains opposition to anything which gets in the way of that.

    "Do no evil" becomes a whole lot easier when it is held that there is no evil which can be done.

    1. Robert Helpmann??

      Re: Understatement of the century?

      "Don’t be evil. We believe strongly that in the long term, we will be better served — as shareholders and in all other ways — by a company that does good things for the world even if we forgo some short term gains." The motto is sometimes incorrectly stated as Do no evil.

      - from that other holder of digital information, Wikipedia

  3. Gio Ciampa


    Most of the reporting I heard went along the lines of "Google will have to remove data"...

    ...with maybe the occasional "and other search engines"...

    ...and never "whichever site actually has the data".

    By all means remove inaccurate and outdated information - but the reporting on this was horrendous.

    1. Julian Bond

      Re: Google-friendly?

      I also don't see a lot of discussion about being able to demand (via the courts) that the site that actually hosted the data implements noindex, nofollow or a robots.txt suggestion to search engines for those pages.

      It's so tempting to post another short link here to the original source. But I won't.

    2. Don Dumb
      Thumb Up

      Re: Google-friendly?

      @Gio Campa - +1

      Yes, I find it suprising that there are very few reporters, even here on El Reg, making the point that Google doesn't store the data, it is just one site that says where that data is. If there really is a right to remove, this needs to be applied to the site holding that data, along with any secondary stores (Google cache, It's like trying to stop people knowing about a telephone number by only asking the Yellow Pages to remove it from their listings. But everyone would rather go on about the ECJ 'killing the internet', which unfortunately (deliberatly?) dilutes our cries about net neutrality.

      1. big_D Silver badge

        Re: Google-friendly?

        Original sites sometimes can't remove the information for legal reasons, on the other hand they don't have to be searchable.

        Take the newspaper in this incident, it is public record, so it can't be removed, but in the past the old copy of the newspaper would disappear from people's houses over time and they would have to go to the archives at the local library or the paper itself to get the information. Therefore the information had a natural shelf life. If you really wanted to research it, you could still find the information, but credit agencies etc. wouldn't find it, because they don't trawl 20 years worth of local paper archives looking for information that is no longer relevant.

        The problem with Google and the paper archive now being online is that the information appears instantly, even if it isn't "allowed" to - i.e. no longer relevant. Getting it removed from Google brings back some of the balance between it being still available as public record, but only to those that need to know about it doing the leg work, whilst those who don't need to know won't find it by accident.

        For non-news sites, the judge would probably have agreed to have ordered the information to be removed. As it was, he had to let it stay up, but make it harder to find.

        1. Gannon (J.) Dick

          Re: Google-friendly?

          That is a good point. But just maybe the sky is not falling, the ground is rising up to gobsmack that silly smirk off Google's face.

          Here is my take:

          Normally "The Law" would have to catch up with Technology. At one time "Close Cover Before Striking" (on matchbook covers) were the most frequently read words in the English Language. I imagine "The Law lags Technology" or something like that is the reigning world champion. Businesses operated in Public cannot avoid periodic reporting of their success or not-quite-complete success, etc. in quarterly Conference Calls or Annual Reports. When you increase shelf-life of information, you had better think ahead as to the end game. Google did not, and now the clock is ticking on disingenuous self-serving crap argument doled out in Court. Lawyers will not risk contempt of Court and their professional careers. It does not help when the Judge can call a short recess and with a tap, tap, tap of the keyboard find out how peers worldwide ruled. Google may be about to find out how useful this Internet thingie can be.

        2. Andrew Orlowski (Written by Reg staff)

          Re: Re: Google-friendly?

          "For non-news sites, the judge would probably have agreed to have ordered the information to be removed. As it was, he had to let it stay up, but make it harder to find."

          You're quite right, the information now "hangs around" and it's in full public view. It may be the first thing that shows up, now matter how irrelevant it is.

          The ruling doesn't affect Lexis-Nexis because it doesn't have the all-pervasive reputational impact of a ubiquitous search engine. It doesn't affect newspapers because journalists have a public interest defence. And it doesn't apply to any information that's in the public interest anyway.

  4. Alan Denman

    'Inaccurate' Google-friendly media"

    Has the world has suddenly gone bonkers?

    It is worth framing that one.

  5. Tom 35

    Not buying this "often-cited"

    "As the ICO told us, the often-cited example of a former student who committed an indiscretion a decade ago, but who today finds it featured at the top of the Google’s search results, was what the ECJ had in mind."

    Do they have an example of the often-cited example?

    Something you did a decade ago is not going to pop to the top of the search results unless people are actively searching for it. Or the press have dug it up and reported on it.

    I expect this will end up like DMCA take down requests in the US.

    There are rules, there are appeals, but it's a pain in the ass so they just take down everything.

    1. the spectacularly refined chap

      Re: Not buying this "often-cited"

      Do they have an example of the often-cited example?

      Maria Lutzke comes to mind straight away. Mercifully, most distributions of that video misspell her name, but if you put in the correct one you still see references to it on the first page of Google results.

      It's of interest to the public (or the male half of the public), but not in the public interest. It's ten years later now and yes, she was very foolish as a student. That doesn't make it right that it is the first thing anyone finds when they look her up, now and for the rest of her life.

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Not buying this "often-cited"

      There's an awful lot in all of this that everyone shouldn't be buying.

      We're told that the specific case was about Google listing a link to a newspaper article about a 20 year old bankrupcy.

      We're told that this was impacting the claimants ability to obtain credit as it was being used by financial institutions to credit score the claimant.

      Find me a single financial institution which scores its credit ratings from Google searches.

      Find me a single financial institution which doesn't score its credit ratings using credit reference agencies.

      We're told that convictions are in the public interest so cannot be removed... then we're told bankrupcy convictions can be struck off of the index. So obviously convictions can be removed from the index.

      We're told that the original article is in the Public interest... but it's not in the Public interest for the Public to be able to find it. How the fuck does that logic work?

      Now we're being reassured that what you can and can't find will be controlled by unelected officials of the ICO...

      I'm still absolutely gobsmacked to keep reading articles by European Journalists who are willing to accept this arbitrary censorship of the index. Who don't have a problem with Public interest article being hidden away from the Public by unelected officials. I wonder if they'd see it as they do if they'd ever lived in a country where censorship was a problem, and if their acceptance of it isn't because they really don't understand the basic freedoms which are being fucked around with?

      What's going on here is very, very odd... it's equivilent to someone claiming they can't get car insurance because there's a 20 year old newspaper article reporting the details of a serious car accident they were involved in long ago... it's just not believeable at all.

      1. JDC

        Re: Not buying this "often-cited"

        Except it's not banks that are the problem, it's clients. The Spanish guy in question offers financial services, and when clients search for information about him they're being shown outdated information.

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: Not buying this "often-cited"

          Except it's not banks that are the problem, it's clients. The Spanish guy in question offers financial services, and when clients search for information about him they're being shown outdated information.

          I see so Google's claims about how people with dodgy pasts will use this to hide their pasts, and thus deceive others is true. This man is attempting to hide his own past financial failure from clients, so that he can get more unknowning, unwitting clients.

          I love the idea of the courts ruling that it's OK for people with dodgy financial histories to be able to deceive clients by hiding their personal history. How long do you think is appropriate for Mr Flowers (late of the banking industry) to appear as a C level board member of a major bank after hiding his past. Five years? Ten years?

        2. Julian Bond

          Re: Not buying this "often-cited"

          Then he ought to put more effort into SEO so that this result drops off the first page and his financial services company dominates the searches instead.

          Wait a minute. An ex-bankrupt is offering financial services? Isn't Google doing the world a service by highlighting this?

    3. David 164

      Re: Not buying this "often-cited"

      There only appeals if Google or another online search engine don't agree to your requests and your appeal to the ICO or they choose to pass it only to the information commissioner office, there nothing in the ruling that force them to do that.

      An currently there is nothing that says Google or other online search engines have to send these requests off to someone to review or vet that they are being handle probably by the online services.

  6. Daggerchild Silver badge

    Contempt of Court

    What will Europe do if any of these blocks fail? (apart from try and extract lots of money from Google).

    If an intermediary blocks a link, but the source changes form, and evades the linkblock, who is a) checking, b) liable and c) what's the punishment?

    Will Google have to patrol the blocks, eternally?

    I'm also curious what happens if blanked data comes into the public interest.

  7. David 164

    The scary thing is that Google or any online service could accept all complaints, what is stopping Google, apart from Google from automatically processing all applications for removals with zero human analyst. Nothing and that is precisely the problem with this verdict, zero oversight of online services unless they decide to send it off the ICO.

    So there is a no argument right to be forgotten if Google or anyone else decides it not going to argue and it be cheaper for online services to do exactly that.

    Now Google will probably go through the expense of doing this right or as right as it reasonable can be done, other smaller less well equip companies probably won't, especially ones that don't have army of legal teams to do it, teams that consist of just a few programmers in a room trying to build their lively hoods, they receive a complaint they are more than likely just delete the links and be done with it and continue with their actual jobs rather making sure it fits within the judgement criteria.

    An judges verdict reads like they expect no one to try and abuse this system, when we the public and infinite imaginations can imagine all kind of people wanting to try and abuse this ruling to clean up their past.

    An is the ICO even equip to handle the 1200 requests so far Google have receive. An if not how much money will it require if every online service decides to send their requests directly to the ICO, does it even have the facilities and case handling software to handle the same request from a single sent to multiple services.

  8. ratfox

    Complete confusion

    I believe that most of the confusion is due to the fact that the new rule has just been decided, and nobody knows exactly what will happen. Here in the comments of the Reg, I have seen people opining that Google will ignore all the applications, refuse them all, or even accept them all. And Google themselves probably don't really know.

    That said, I'm wondering how this can all work. Unless Google accepts practically all the applications, the data protection authorities are going to receive every day hundreds of complaints of people who got rejected by Google. I rather doubt they really want or even have the resources to go through all of it.

  9. P. Lee

    "The Right to be fogotten"

    "I demand that you never saw remember seeing me naked and burn all the pictures!"

    Is this going to extend to facebook? How does it work when some people want to remember and some people don't want to remember the same event?

    It's a stupid idea. If privacy is important, don't take pictures! Life is not consequence-free and neither should it be. In the old days we thought about how things looked and there were lots of conventions around modesty and propriety to solve this very problem. We took care to teach children to avoid doing wrong and the appearance of doing wrong. Now whiny "I wanna be free" is coming back to bite people and they want to try to re-arrange reality.

    Well I'm sorry but if you ever thought a nazi-themed hooker party was going to be a good idea then you deserve to be a case-study in bad judgment.

    Don't get me wrong, privacy is very important. Having your bedroom buzzed by a drone-camera or an peered into with an extreme telephoto lens is an issue, but I'm reasonably sure this isn't a major problem or the main expected use of these laws.

    Google is a search engine. If privacy has been infringed, go after the source and hit them with a fine which dissuades them from doing it again. Pretending that you aren't censoring the internet by making a request to google isn't going to cut it. If it's important enough, block it with the pedophile website tech so at least everyone knows what's going on. At least that occurs at the national borders rather than trying to extend your law to the international scene. We have different countries for very good reasons - the main one is that we don't all want to be bound by the same laws.

    To me this looks like a power grab to get governmental control of what is on the internet. If this can be done for privacy, then it can be done for any sort of censorship.

  10. SleepyJohn
    Big Brother

    Self-interest? Google?

    "And like any powerful corporation, it may have an agenda of self-interest"

    And immensely powerful, unelected, unaccountable quasi-governments do not?

    Who will be the final arbiter of which historical facts are to be hidden from the peasantry? Because hiding the truth from the people is precisely what this is about, carefully disguised with emotive pandering to ex-students who want to cover up their peccadilloes, and unconvincing assurances that 'matters of public interest will not be affected'. Well, the very court that has just effectively given itself that arbitrary power is the same one that not long ago decreed that any criticism of the EU should be viewed as blasphemy!

    I think Google reporting the existence of everything that is on record, together with us having to live with and deal with our own pasts, is a great deal healthier for society than having our reality censored by the dysfunctional, unaccountable and dangerously dictatorial EU. You would have to be blind not to see that the EU oligarchy has its own "agenda of self-interest", and that its ambitions are orders of magnitude more to be feared than Google's.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Self-interest? Google?

      Because hiding the truth from the people is precisely what this is about, carefully disguised with emotive pandering to ex-students who want to cover up their peccadilloes, and unconvincing assurances that 'matters of public interest will not be affected'.

      Not to mention formerly bankrupt financial advisors being able to obtain more clients by hiding their past financial failings from those potential clients... fucking outstanding... just absolutely fucking outstanding.

      All of you defenders of this censorship diktat, can you explain to me why potential clients of financial advisers shouldn't be able to find references to those financial advisors past financial failures? Explain how it is in the public interest to hide the truth from people who may trust this man with their life savings?

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