back to article Google de-listing of BBC article 'broke UK and Euro public interest laws' - So WHY do it?

Google's publicity stunt this week, in which it de-linked selected mass media articles and posts from its search results and informed the journalists in question it had done so, appears to have been illegal. The gigantic advertising company now faces the prospect of having to re-link to articles it has de-linked in the UK in …

  1. AndrueC Silver badge

    it may not be a coincidence that went down for approximately 10 minutes shortly before 11am UK time.

    So that's what caused it. Barstools.

  2. Danny 14

    nothing to see here, move along

    I'm sure the beak would call that contempt if you or me tried it.

  3. Tom 7

    " it's a no-brainer, there's a clear public interest in that information remaining available."

    But a court may request the link was taken down if the guy contested it with a well paid team of lawyers - and I bet some of his friends would chip in for them too. And public interest doesnt normally sue so what would you do?

    But what the hell it would still be available on anyway.

  4. Radbruch1929

    "When Google receives a request to de-link, it must consider whether any damage to the person making the request is outweighed by a relevant public interest in keeping the link. In the case of [Merrill Lynch chairman] Sean O'Neal [original here], it's a no-brainer, there's a clear public interest in that information remaining available."

    That's an interesting idea but I am unsure it holds up: Google *must* wheigh the individual's rights against the public interest if Google wants to *keep* the link.

    The same does not necessarily apply if Google does not want to keep the link. At the moment, it is difficult to imagine where a legal requirement for Google to keep up a link would come from. It cannot be privacy legislation as the personal data processed (and now removed) is the data of the complaining subject, thus the removal happened with the data subject's consent. The publisher can not claim illegal removal of privacy relevant data as the data does not refer to him as a data subject.

    So the only legal requirement for Google to keep up a link that comes to my mind is competition law. There, requiring a company to do something is far more constrained than stopping a company from certain actions. Google might have a defence that while Google factually affects the business whose content is no longer accessible, it would otherwise have to screen the content and thus incurr costs for the benefit of this business. I wonder whether Google's "falling over" could really be seen as "illegal".

    It is of course an own goal regarding their political lobbying.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      > it's a no-brainer, there's a clear public interest in that information remaining available.

      The "forget me" request apparently wasn't about the article but a comment left on the article and you can't forget one without the other.

      I don’t know which comment was contentious or why it was. Perhaps somebody was critical of an organisation they now wish to work for or made a dumb comment which now haunts them.

      In any case, the information in the article (but not the comment) exists in many other forms on other sites so "forgetting" this one page does not forget* the information or hinder the public's interest in finding the information but it does make it difficult to find the comment.

      Removing search results for every article that links Stan O’Neal with the débâcle at Merrill Lynch would be against the public interest but you could certainly argue forgetting a single one out of the many thousands doesn't hinder the public interest at all.

      Its never black and white which is why blood sucking leeches lawyers exist.

    2. Tom 35

      Like the DMCA

      Who is Google to decide if something is in the public interest? Can you even define what "in the public interest" is, or is it one of the I know it when I see it type things?

      They are a company so they only care about what is in the companies interest, if they don't de-list something they could end up with court costs defending that.

      If the request comes from Joe Average guy, they can ignore it. From a lawyer, or a corporation? Link is toast. Only in the most black and white cases will they not remove the link.

      As I said before this will be just like Youtube and the DMCA. If Youtube get a takedown request your video is toast. Even if it perfectly legal and it's now your problem to get it put back. This is abused on purpose to get rid of stuff people don't like, or in error by automatic systems. I have personally experienced this when one division of a major record label proved me with material to promote a bands appearance and approved the final site, but a different division of the same company had the site taken down with a DMCA request a day later.

    3. billse10

      "Google was failing to comply with English (and EU) data protection obligations and weigh the public's right to freedom of expression to read those articles."

      surely Google is only interfering with the public's right to freedom of expression to read those articles if it removes the articles themselves? Only an idiot - or a lawyer (there's an interesting Venn diagram project for someone out there) - would claim that removing an item from a table of contents or an index actually removes the item itself.

      You're right about the politics, but sense when has politics had even the slightest connection with reasonableness? A reasonable person would not attempt to claim for mortgage payments on a mortgage that has been paid off, or £8k-worth of cleaning, for example ...

  5. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Of course Google (or any other serach engine) will react this way

    The value to a search engine of keeping any random link indexed is essentially zero. The cost of going through some consultation/appeal process with the original publisher, or referring it to the ICO, is significant in manhour terms alone. Why on earth would any rational search provider expend resources pondering the public interest and it's balance with privacy rights? They won't, they'll just delist the link.

    Incidentally the same dilemma confronts every blog, forum, or similar publisher - it simply isn't worth the effort to dispute anything other than the most egregious cases of abuse of any "right to be forgotten".

  6. Joe Harrison

    not illegal

    How can it be illegal for Google to remove one of its own links? The EU ruling just says that Google must remove a link if an individual requests it, unless there is a public interest angle. The ruling does not say the opposite (that if there is public interest then the link must remain.)

    1. This post has been deleted by its author

      1. jonathanb Silver badge

        Re: not illegal

        That is different. Google do have editorial discretion when deciding which links they consider to be the most relevant for any given search term, and choosing high quality websites that don't have keyword stuffing in hidden text is perfectly acceptable.

    2. Kristian Walsh Silver badge

      Re: not illegal

      It can be illegal where the removal of links is an attempt to hide certain points of view that are competely legal to express, information about certain businesses that compete with Google or its partners, or information that is public interest to know.

      For most web users, Google is the primary content index for the Internet. If something is not in Google, then it's not on the Internet, and can't be found.

      I can guarantee you that if Google removed the term "Facebook" from its index, you would get a flurry of calls from your non-technical friends asking you if you knew Facebook was broken.

      Google must play the role of a neutral deliverer of information, because as soon as they start to make editorial decisions, they lose the Safe Harbour protections they currently enjoy, and they become legally responsible for the accuracy and balance of the results they present.

      1. Steve Crook

        Re: not illegal


        Yes to most of what you say, but you're not saying it's illegal.

        Some aspects of Google manipulating its search results could be anticompetitive where the removed or demoted items concern competing services (think the recent Springer complaint). But after that, I'm not sure Google have any *legal* obligation w.r.t free speech, censorship or telling the truth than the BBC, Daily Mirror or any other media organisation.

      2. Ken Hagan Gold badge

        Re: not illegal

        "Google must play the role of a neutral deliverer of information, because as soon as they start to make editorial decisions, they lose the Safe Harbour protections they currently enjoy, and they become legally responsible for the accuracy and balance of the results they present."

        I wish that were true, but the ECJ's insistence in chasing search engines rather than the original publishers of an article suggests that the concept has no legal standing over here.

        1. Andrew Orlowski (Written by Reg staff)

          Re: Re: not illegal

          He's sort of right, although Safe Harbour is a technical term that doesn't apply here. Applied metaphorically, he's on the right lines.

          The ECJ wasn't "chasing search engines" - it has to apply European data protection law as it's written. There is an exemption (a "derogation") for publishers and Google could have applied to be one. And saved itself all this both. But it declined to take that route.

          If the EU wants search engines to be exempt it will have to pass a rule that says they are. But given Google's behaviour with regard to data protection, that's not very likely now. And even less likely given how it's behaved in response to Gonzalez.

      3. Richard Plinston

        Re: not illegal

        > removal of links is an attempt to hide certain points of view

        Removal of a link does _not_ hide the point of view. The article is still accessible. It can still be found via other search criteria and other links.

        > if Google removed the term "Facebook" from its index,

        Searching for a person's name, or other content, would still show links to Facebook.

      4. Andrew Orlowski (Written by Reg staff)

        Re: Re: not illegal

        Google makes editorial decisions every day. It made 12 million domains disappear one day. Google has some more responsibilities because it can no longer evade EU law, but these are nowhere near as onerous as Google makes out.

        (Google would not be in this position if it had chosen the option of protection as a publisher - an option it declined.)

        You are free to argue for the abolition of data protection laws in the EU, but if they're there, you can't argue Your Favourite Corporation doesn't have to abide by them.

    3. TkH11

      Re: not illegal

      I can't see how any law can specify that an internet search provider has to provide links or not provide links to other sites.

      I can accept the BBC has a public interest obligation, and therefore have to provide educational articles and undertake certain activities: they're funded by the tax payer!

      "I am the government and YOU WILL provide links to my pages on the Taxation".

  7. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward


    There is nothing in data protection law that forces an indexer to index particular websites.

    If there was, you can guarantee Googles very highly paid lawyers would have brought that up in EU case, and would preclude them removing links to file sharing sites without a court order.

    If they were hosting the original data, that's a different matter, but there not. they are a search engine. I suspect your legal adviser is getting these matters confused....

    1. TkH11

      Re: Bollocks.

      I agree with you in relation to Data Protection Act, I don't think it even applies here.

      Data protection act is about companies keeping private information on you and the terms under which they are allowed to do so.

      But having researched a little, this court action is based on an EU directive in 1995 specifying privacy rules and data protection. As I understand it, (and I'm not an expert), EU member states have to enshrine in their own country legislation those EU directives.

      I wonder if UK data protection legislation does include it?

      The EU rule is to do with a company deleting personal data at the request of the individual. That seems fair and reasonable, we should be able to request a private company to delete data they hold on us, but this rule shouldn't really apply to Google, they're not actually holding the data, they're linking to it and it's held in the system of another company.

      The European Court of Justice disagreed.

      I can't believe the EC directive of 1995 ( or any other) forces a company to retain personal information if it is in the public interest to do do. This introduces a whole new can of worms, who decides if it is in the public interest? Google? And what if their view on a particular piece of data is different to a court of law?

      The concept of being 'in the public interest' applies to organisations with the power to prosecute, such as the crown prosecution service, where they have the ability to make a decision to prosecute and the criteria for doing so is "in the public interest", but in the now case of Google, to have two parties making the determination of whether the data held is in the public interest or not, Google and the ECJ (or another court), gives rise to a difference of opinion and Google risk being prosecuted for every breach in the future where it has made a determination which is in opposition to a court of law. It's a farce.

      How does a company resolve such a matter and prevent it self from being prosecuted? Is it to have every decision it is thinking of making in relation to the deletion of data reviewed by the ECJ or some other court first, so that it can then make the same decision and prevent a prosecution from occurring?

      It's not practical. And I don't think the ECJ has this particularly well thought out.

      The fundamental issue in this I feel is that of the actual companies publishing the personal data in the first place. If an individual doesn't want their old historic data to be viewed, they need to go to the companies and their websites which are the publishers of the data and not Google and request deletion of the data, issue take down notices.

      If that were to be enforced, the legal mechanisms put in place to allow that to happen (not saying it's easy with the original information can be distributed across web servers in different countries and there then becomes a problem of jurasdiction) then these conflicts about data being in the public interest and courts of law trying to dictate to private companies what data they should retain go away.

  8. This post has been deleted by its author

  9. Don Jefe


    This is not a backfire. It is, in fact, quite possibly the best way to position regulation you're opposed to as poorly thought out, confusing, expensive, destructive and nothing more than unnecessary populist politicizing.

    I'm not saying those are my opinions up there, but the deliberate misinterpretation of rules to create a platform to speak from and bring an attentive audience to listen, is a time honored tactic. It's effective in general, and even more so when targeting government. Regardless of ones political leanings, most people don't actually expect their government to not fuck everything up. So the masses will at least listen when nongovernment actors cause a stir over government actions.

    Will it work? It already has. The purpose is to broaden the audience who hears your complaints. That being the case, this is a 100% success.

    1. Arctic fox

      @Don Jefe RE: "'broke UK and Euro public interest laws' - So WHY do it?"

      "Will it work? It already has. The purpose is to broaden the audience who hears your complaints. That being the case, this is a 100% success."

      I am not so sure. The answer to El Reg' subbie's rhetorical question is of course, IMHO, that like so many other examples of BigCorp, they figured that they could do what they liked. I don't think that the current public mood (in Europe at any rate) is particularly well disposed to arrogant multinationals. 100% success? I would not bet the farm on that.

  10. Andrew Jones 2

    "What constitutes an invasion of privacy is the snippets of the search results that Google displays - but with a blog post or newspaper article, these only ever show the headline and first paragraph. The commenter can't logically have been the complainant."

    Yes well, that's bollocks because what is displayed in the "snippet" is entirely related to the search you perform, in this case - if someone had Googled the name of the commenter, the only place his name appears is in the comments.

    For instance - right now because of all the search noise I have to add "bbc" to search term, but a Google search (on the US Site) for "Peter Dragomer bbc" returns a snippet on page 1 from the 2007 article that says:

    "Oct 29, 2007 - At 11:32 AM on 29 Oct 2007,; Peter Dragomer wrote: Amazing ! as an ex ML employee I would never have thought any serious financial ..."

    now it is entirely possible that before the last few days, it would not have been necessary to have added the word "bbc" to the search to get this snippet. It is entirely possible that Peter Dragomer regrets informing the world that he is an ex ML employee - it may in fact be affecting him professionally.

    1. Tatsky

      Exactly. You search that guys name and a fairly prominent result is his negative comments about ML, which he could regret.

      Also, there is a guy by the same name (could be the same guy, or just the same name) who is by the looks of it launching a new politically related social app. He could probably do without any negative comments found when searching his name reflecting badly on him.

      Imagine you are this guy trying to launch a business, or get funding. Someone searches your name and finds that negative looking comment... it could cause you issues.

      So it's not beyond reason to assume this guy may have requested the removal of the page.

      1. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

        So I can demand the removal of any pages mentioning another Mr John Smith because they affect me?

        That's going to pretty much fsck Google in china then !

  11. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    If the point of the exercise was merely to raise public awareness

    sure a few well-chosen notices in prominent positions trafficked by large numbers of people both online and in meatspace would have got the job done.

    If only Google had access to a wide-ranging and effective advertising outfit...

  12. Cynical Observer

    Missing something here

    "it's a no-brainer, there's a clear public interest in that information remaining available."

    Google hasn't removed the original article. Google is also not paid (at least not directely) to provide some form of library service as you would get from a public body.

    It is a private entity that, based on some some and mirrors arcane algoritm, decides where an article appears in a search result. But I don't see how they can be obligated to make sure that a particular result is displayed - unless one decides to drag in the regulators with their "Fairness" definitions.

    Publicity gaff - most certainly.

    Looking like kids who spat the dummy Yep! got that one covered.

    Showing that the EU law is poorly conceived - I'll grant them that.

    Breaking the law - don't quite see it.

    IANAL - but hey that's never stopped Reg Commentards offering opinions.

  13. Uncle Siggy

    Told you so

    "I think you are overlooking the obvious. There's a team that just became redundant. With fewer applications, more idle hands, and Devil's work to do, it won't be long before doing no evil becomes impractical."


  14. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    The irony...

    Of course the irony here is that more people now know that an article was taken down about [Merrill Lynch chairman] Sean O'Neal than probably read the article in the first place...

    1. Keep Refrigerated

      Re: The irony...

      This is an internet era phenomenom which has been coined as the "Streisand Effect" - in which the attempt to censor a piece of information has the unintended consequences of publicizing the information more widely than it ever would have been had the plaintiff has simply let it be.

      Some good examples on the wiki link.

      It's the meatspace equivalent of asking your friend to go through his old photographs of that time back in 2002 when you got really drunk at that party and ended up naked and tried shagging a potplant.

      The rest of the people at that party had forgotten the incident, but when they find out that your trying to get your friend to find the photo to destroy it, they end up looking for it as well (and there's a lot more of them that want to save the embarrassing photo from destruction).

      Upon finding it, remembering how hilarious it was, they then start reproducing it and sharing it with all their friends, and their friends of friends - and pretty soon it's gone from a few people who knew you as the "Pot Plant Lover" years ago and had forgotten, to you being known everywhere by people you've never even met, as the "Pot Plant Lover" - every time you're introduced to someone new it's "Oh, you're the Pot Plant Lover!".

  15. Andy The Hat Silver badge

    Why is everyone missing the fact that Google (or any other large data storage facility) can decide whether information is in the 'public interest'? That's a judge's job not that of the Great Firewall of London ...

    1. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

      So every journalist in print, tv and the web currently gets a judges ruling before writing any article to decide if it's in the public interest? They must be busy these judges!

      Google can decide to ignore a request, if they believe it is in the public interest that a link remains up. But they may have to defend that in court, or they can just remove it.

  16. Alister

    Where on earth has this idea come from that Google have any legal obligation to provide a link to any content on the web?

    If they choose to remove their link, that's up to them, and whether they did it to score points or not neither the EU commission nor anybody else can tell them to put it back, and I'm sure they know that.

  17. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    I have to feel a little sympathy for Google here as they can't do right for doing wrong.

    The new idea that they broke the law by de-listing something is possibly even more crazy than the original ruling. Surely as a business they have the right to remove anything they like from their index at any time? They never made any promises to anyone that they would always list anything that may be in the public interest. I can't help feeling this is just a case of "the powers that be" badly misunderstanding the internet and thinking that google == internet.

    As for the original right to be forgotten ruling I'm not completely against it in principle. In the actual case I'd say the wrong decision was made but I can imagine cases where forcing a de-listing is an appropriate course of action.

    1. Lars Silver badge

      "Surely as a business they have the right to remove anything they like from their index at any time?". Perhaps not that simple. Perhaps they removed everything SAP because Oracle made it an exellent business or just for fun as they as a business have the right to remove anything they like from their index at any time.

  18. Goldmember


    "but with a blog post or newspaper article, these only ever show the headline and first paragraph. The commenter can't logically have been the complainant."

    Not necessarily. If you look at the actual BBC blog post in question, some of the commenters have real names displayed. The top one is Peter Dragomer. A Google search for this guy links to the blog post, shows the blog post's title, but then shows part of his comment in the snippet. He just so happens to be an ex-employee of the company in question in the post, and certainly isn't singing their praises. A prospective employer might find this interesting.

    Now the fact that the result is still showing at all (and the fact the "some results may have been removed.. blah blah" comment appears at the bottom) suggests it wasn't him, but logically it COULD have been one of the commenters who requested it.

    There's an interesting article about it

    1. VinceH

      Re: Well...

      ""but with a blog post or newspaper article, these only ever show the headline and first paragraph. The commenter can't logically have been the complainant."

      Not necessarily. If you look at the actual BBC blog post in question, some of the commenters have real names displayed. The top one is Peter Dragomer. A Google search for this guy links to the blog post, shows the blog post's title, but then shows part of his comment in the snippet"

      Exactly - one of the comments I was going to make was that the snippet is usually contextual based on the search term.

      Another was that the search term suggested by the Guardian bloke demonstrates a lack of understanding of how to search on Google anyway.

      His suggested search term: "Dougle McDonald Guardian" - which now shows a number of links on this subject.

      A slightly better search term: "Dougie McDonald" - which shows the three 'missing' results from his original search term, right there at the top.

      I take Andew's point that Google may be re-linking such articles1, but I note their little caveat that some things may have been removed is still present.

      This is all getting silly.

      1. We won't really know until we hit on a search that definitely has links missing, and not just assumed to be missing, which then magically reappear for the search term later. In the meantime, knickers are not for twisting.

  19. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    google should delist all that nonsense from eu

    and make sure that any of the eu/ec offices' ip addresses are blocked so they don't have to suffer googles search results

    I'm with google on this one.

  20. Microdot

    It's potentially illegal because they've been told to weigh the merits and not just de-list everything that gets requested.

    Yes, Google doesn't have to index the data, but they can't then turn around to various journalists and say that they're de-listing their articles because they've received a request to forget, otherwise they're implicitly tying themselves in to the court's instructions to weigh the merits. Which it doesn't look like they have been.

    If it was a commenter that had requested the de-listing then it would shirley be the indexing to their identifying data that should be removed rather than the index of the entire article, thereby retaining the public interest angle but complying with the right to privacy.

    1. Tatsky

      Eh? Are you saying they should delist parts of the article/page?

      Google don't host the page, they have no control over the content of the page. So they can't censor the page which loads in the users browser. That idea has all sorts of wrong written all over it.

      Google simply index the content of the page, and then weigh search terms against it. They could maybe add excluded keywords against a page, so that page doesn't come back for certain keywords, but the EU ruling is that the actual page should be removed from the index.

      It could be that one of the commenters has requested the removal, because that comment they left has caused them over the years to miss out on job opportunities etc etc. So you weigh how important that information about ML is (it's no secret what happened, and there are articles all over the internet about it) against 1 guys struggle to shake off a comment he made 7 years ago.... that actually seems like a fairly straight forward call to me.

      1. Dave Bell

        It does seem odd that Google doesn't tell the BBC the relevant name, but that comes down to the reputation of the site. Some news sites have, for a long time, removed problematic comments, leaving a placeholder marker. And if a news site did that, shouldn't the commenter ask the news site first?

        But if you might trust the BBC enough to talk to them first, that isn't a universal. What do you do about 4chan?

        I'll venture that, when this settles down, reputable news sites might take down comments. But there will be a lot where your only chance is Google. And rich and poor alike will be prohibited from sleeping under the bridges of Paris.

    2. James Loughner

      Exactly how much do merits weigh and whose scale is to be used to weigh them????

    3. bigtimehustler

      Your talking nonsense, they don't have to say they removed it because the person said so, they have the legal right to say they removed it because on a whim they just fancied doing so. There is no legal right of anything to be indexed by google, it is googles choice.

      1. Adam 1

        >Your talking nonsense


  21. ratfox

    You've got to be kidding me

    First, Google is told it is illegal to keep links that are irrelevant. And now, it is said to be illegal to remove links that are relevant?

    This would mean that no matter what it shows, Google can be sued for showing or not showing what somebody does not like? And the right to decide what is correct belongs to the courts?

    No wonder they are complaining like hell about it.

  22. R.Moore

    Radio 4 this morning.

    This morning Peter Barron (Google's head of communications) was on Radio 4, along with Robert Peston and Barron went on the record to say that it was a commentor who had made the request, not O'Neil.

    I don't question the premise that Google is playing games here, but much of this article seems to have ignored this event.

    1. diodesign (Written by Reg staff) Silver badge

      Re: Radio 4 this morning.

      "this article seems to have ignored this event"

      If Barron is correct then it's even more crazy - because it's a misunderstanding by Google of the ECJ ruling. Either way, newspaper articles were delisted, not just Peston's blog post, so Andrew's point remains.


      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Radio 4 this morning.

        What misunderstanding? As pointed above, it is entirely possible for the web page to show up in results when searching the name of a commenter, along with a snippet showing most of their comment.

        If the commenter wants to remove an embarrassing comment, then the result will not show up for their name. That is only, like, 0.01% of the traffic to that page removed, since it will still show up when looking for O'Neil or Merril Lynch.

        It seems to me this is exactly what the right to be forgotten was about: Somebody not famous, unhappy about an embarrassing but unimportant result showing up on a search for their name. Why would Google refuse the request?

        1. Andrew Orlowski (Written by Reg staff)

          Re: Re: Radio 4 this morning.


      2. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Radio 4 this morning.

        I don't think Google misunderstood the ECJ ruling. I also think, but will let you confirm it, that only the comment was delisted, but because it doesn't have its own unique URL, that the article and everyone else's comments on it were also delisted.

        The real question is whether a new site, presumably, be set up to index all of the takedown requests.

    2. Andrew Orlowski (Written by Reg staff)

      Re: Radio 4 this morning.

      What Tierney is saying is that a commenter does not have the right for the article to be removed from the search results, because their privacy is not being breached. At least, not by the CJEU's criteria.

      But Google removed it anyway.

      Remember that Gonzalez only won because the law had not kept pace with technology; a) the info being continually re-published is irrelevant and out of date and b) Google is a massive, pervasive information source, with huge social impact, and it's continually republishing this info via its search results "snippets".

      A responsible search engine would have done this:

      "Oh, hello, we've got a request from a commenter on some page we've indexed. We'll reject it and they can complain to the ICO".

    3. TkH11

      Re: Radio 4 this morning.

      The principle underlying the deletion of data is that of an individual requesting a company to delete personal data that the company holds on them. This is covered by a European directive of 1995 which I think has been enshrined in Data Protection Legislation in the UK.

      The data is personal data held by the company on person A. Person A should be the only party that can request the deletion of the data. Some other random individual or organisation, party B should not be able to request the deletion of data to party A.

      The only person that should be able to request and achieve the deletion of the data is Peston himself, not O'Neal and not anyone else.

  23. Nifty Silver badge

    Facts, please

    As heard on Radio 4 this morning, where the Google spokesman was interviewed, the article is not delisted even from

    What in fact has happened is that the search result is delisted for one or more specific search terms.

    These terms do not (at moment of writing this) include "Sean O'Neal".

    So Robert questioned why the email he received strongly implied that the article had been delisted from

    In answer the Google spokesman stated that in their email they could not reveal for which search term/s have been delisted, but confirmed that the complainant has been one of the commentards below the article.

    So reason for the ambiguous and publicity-generating email to Robert Peston was to "protect the privacy" of the complainant.

    I leave the following high tech sleuthing exercise to you:

    - Test every plausible search term - using the commentards' names for instance - and make a list of which ones DON'T return a result.

    - Now you know who the complainant is!

    To quote Mr. Bumble: "the law is a ass"

    1. TkH11

      Re: Facts, please

      Evidently Google have created an automated system to delist (whatever you want to call and how it is achieved, is the removal of links to the site from the search results) to enable links to be removed, believing this complies with the ECJ ruling.

      But it should only be the individual themselves which are the subject of the personal data (in this Peston) that should be able to request the delist/deletion of the data, but that requires an authentication mechanism to verify the person requesting the delist really is the subject of the data.

      Such an authentication mechanism is not likely to be implemented easily in an automatic form. That's the problem. How do you verify that the user requesting the removal of the data really is the subject of the data.

      Google have gone for an automatic deletion, in the expection (rightly so) that they wil receive lots of personal data deletion requests and I'm not convinced they have implemented what the ECJ court requires.

      The problem is, I suspect, the ECJ judges aren't technical experts (few judges are!) and they haven't really understood the implications of their decision.

  24. petur

    EU backfire

    If it should backfire on anything, it should be on the EU and its braindead rule. Google is a search engine. If you don't want something to show up, have the source removed.

  25. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    So is Andrew in favour of the law...

    .... But opposed to Google's implementation? I really can't tell

    1. diodesign (Written by Reg staff) Silver badge

      Re: So is Andrew in favour of the law...

      Yes - on both counts.


  26. frank ly

    "It's potentially illegal because they've been told to weigh the merits and not just de-list everything that gets requested."

    It's not Google's job/duty to weigh the merits of 'public interest'; it's up to a court to make a decision on such matters, if this is a legal argument. If the courts aren't happy with Google's amateur decision making, they should spend time making legally binding decisions for each and every instance.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      you negelcted to add

      ...without any additional personel, at all, anywhere, ever.

  27. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    So now I know what kind of people are glad to give up all privacy and security

    Yes, so many of the commentators in this forum.

    The legal business is actually to protect most of us against the profit-seeking whims of others doing unfair damage to our lives. It is not intended to stop legitimate publication or promotion of information about items of genuine relevance and currency. So, clearly, any firm or individual intent on publishing or promoting or enabling the spread of items should consider whether this is, in effect, irrelevant and outdated tittle-tattle that hurts the subject for no good reason or if it is relevant to today, either as a significant historical fact or as evidence of behaviour or causes relevant, possibly decades later, to today and, where there is a conflict, to be sensible and sensitive about it. Google, nor anyone else, have no God-given rights over and above yours and mine. It's just a large, USA private firm getting data to further their business of advertising. The fact that, as a side effect, it provides a useful service is no more justification for it than, say, a garage providing free use of its lavatories to pedestrians is let off the hook for polluting the local stream with engine oil.

    Even if you are content, glad even, to share your all with anyone wanting to exploit you for profit in return for some perceived advantage, do not assume that the rest of us are.

    Anon to stay in the spirit of things.

  28. Keep Refrigerated

    Wait a second... back this up a little bit....!

    It's now illegal to take links to other websites off a website you own?

    Am I understanding this correctly... I own a web-directory of useful links and if I remove one them I break the law?!

    1. TkH11

      Re: Wait a second... back this up a little bit....!

      No, it's not about the removal of links per se, it's about the removal of personal data (or links to that personal data). The case was brought under an EU privacy/data protection directive in year 1995, It's about individuals being able to request the removal of their own personal data.

  29. SoaG

    I'm no fan of what Google has become, but Orlowski is out to lunch on this one. The onus of right-to-be-forgotten should be on the publisher/host of the information, no just on the biggest (of several) search engines.

    They're approaching 60,000 requests so far. Probably about to get a surge due to the publicity around this story. There's no possible way for them to properly evaluate public interest for each request.

    So either they leave them all up or take them all down. If they leave them up they'll be taken to court over hundreds if not thousands of them. On the extreme low end, if even 1% of current requests are contested if left up, they'd be looking costs approaching 50 million in lawyers fees. The only rational response is to take them all down.

    1. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

      Or they just forward all the complaints to the ICO which is what the law says they can do.

      If they automatically take them all down then people will start insisting that Google remove personal data about themselves which Google uses to sell its services to advertisers and Google really doesn't want that - which is why it wants everyone to think this law is stupid, which is why it did this.

      Or perhaps Google merely demands real identities from all its users because it wants to be friendly

      1. Vociferous

        "Or they just forward all the complaints to the ICO"

        That's certainly the comedy option. How many years would it take the ICO to parse to parse the 50000 requests which have come in the last weeks?

    2. Richard 26

      "I'm no fan of what Google has become, but Orlowski is out to lunch on this one. The onus of right-to-be-forgotten should be on the publisher/host of the information, no just on the biggest (of several) search engines."

      I hear this view expressed a lot but IMHO it is a fundamental misunderstanding of what the law is about. If say, you got drunk at a party, caused a public nuisance and spent a night in the cells, and picked up a small fine in the morning it is perfectly fine for the Nowheresville Gazette to include a paragraph on page 11 of its 1984 edition. You absolutely do not have the right to get a newspaper to delete it from its archive in an Orwellian rewriting of history.

      However, the courts have said you have the right when someone aggregates data about you, that it doesn't give undue prominance to long gone events. It is a pain for Google but the volume will settle down in time.

    3. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      You use that word 'possible'. I do not think it means what you think it means.

  30. Adam T

    sad really

    The only thing I get from this, is how sad it is that we're basically confirming that Google IS the Internet. Our reliance on it has gone beyond monopoly and entered the realms of God Given Rights (even though it's Man Made and an advertising company to boot).

    "Web Search Engine chooses not to list some stuff", would have been utterly trivial a decade ago. Today we can't function without it. That's pretty scary.

  31. ideapete

    merely £500,000.

    What bloody world do you live in or is this the rate of brit inflation

  32. Nuno trancoso

    Was a mess waiting to happen from the go. No matter how it gets painted, it's censorship. Courts should deciding on whether something is factual/true or not (defamation). Relevancy is in the eye of the beholder, thus, let people themselves decide if it is or not.

    On a side note, if i was Google, i'd fork out some $$$, setup a small "competing" search engine and link to their results. Being a "minor" search engine said operation wouldn't fall under these orwellian rulings and could thus link to whatever they wanted. Then i'd make sure Google's search algo was biased enough to make sure those links to links (not content) always came on top of searches. Give or take a few thousand "Streisand Effects" and people would give up trying to be forgotten on sheer fear of actually getting to be remembered.

  33. Vociferous

    This article is seriously dumb.

    * It is not a right to be listed on Google. What is listed on Google is at Google's discretion, unless linking to it would be illegal.

    * It is not obvious what is "public interest" or "outdated" and not, and if Google gets it wrong it can be sued. Google would need to have lawyers investigate each proposed deletion to see if it's public interest; at (currently) 250 requests per day that would be expensive.

    * Google makes approximately zero cents off any individual link, so deleting a link costs Google approximately zero cents.

    Conclusion: Google can either spend huge sums to have teams of lawyers investigate each claim, OR delete every link someone asks them to delete, at near-zero cost to Google.

    Google did the right thing deleting these articles, and should have stuck to its guns to force a change of this idiotic law and even more idiotic EU ruling.

  34. gumbril

    Poor article without some sort of reference

    Irritated by this article, as it's headline hinges on whether google has 'broke UK and EURO public interest laws'. Frankly it's more of a pub discussion without some sort of reference (how about a nice link to exactly what laws have been broken), or who exactly claims it, that can indicate that they have the knowledge to make the assertion.

    Because on this side of the pub, we think Google does not have any sort of statutory duty to make information available to the public. It chooses to as part of the service it provides, under Terms & Conditions.

    "Freedom of expression to read those articles" - for example Article 10 - Freedom of expression - talks about receiving information without interference from public bodies, but nothing that would appear to match this by a long shot.

  35. IanW

    Shouldn't have been in the loop to start with...

  36. David 138

    It shouldn't be up to Google anyway unless its a Google service. The request should go to the BBC or whoever holds the information. Whoever OKed this action should be removed as a European Judge. Its this kind of crap that makes the EU unpopular with member states.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      ...that makes the EU unpopular with member states.

      Because the UK government is only interested in civil liberties? Clearly not:

      As far as they're concerned, the sooner they can stop having to abide by European HR legislation, the better. By opting out or withdrawing from Europe completely, they're only interested in screwing their own citizens.

      Take their anti union balloting proposals for example - if MPs could only be elected if they had 50% of the vote, very few would get into power.

  37. SleepyJohn
    Big Brother

    WHY do it?

    Google are vilified for showing links and for not showing links, for making judgements and for not making judgements, for informing journalists and for not informing journalists. They are vilified for obeying this fatuous ruling and for not obeying it, and are now being vilified for showing up the unutterable idiocy of it. They are even vilified for efficiently running a business that provides the peoples of Europe with a hugely valuable, entirely free service without which most of them could barely operate. Vilified? Really?

    This shambolic, insoluble mess was caused by the ECJ, not by Google, and it is the ECJ that should be asked - WHY do it (when strongly advised not to by your own legal team)? EU citizens should question the agenda of this so-called 'court' that now has absolute power over what publicly available information they will effectively be permitted to see.

    There is a big picture here that is considerably more important to the average citizen than the stupidity of a 30 year-old who actually wants to work for someone stupid enough to judge him on a teenage indiscretion.

  38. DaLo

    Google de-listing of BBC article 'broke UK and Euro public interest laws'

    Where are these "UK and Euro public interest laws" that Google have broken?

    I don't seem to find any reference to them on the EU Legislation archive? These laws must prevent Google from removing any links (or not linking to) any articles that would be deemed in the public interest (I presume by the fact they have broken them).

    Does this mean that a robots.txt file is also illegal under "UK and Euro public interest laws"? That may be used also to stop search engines indexing information that may be in the public interest?

  39. Velv

    Utter rubbish. Google is under no legal obligation to "publish" anything in a search result.

    Public interest law does not mandate that a search must return any particular item which may well be in the public interest.

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