‘Right to be forgotten’ ruling challenged by Google
in the name of SEO companies everywhere
Google has been accused of misconstruing the European court’s “right to be forgotten” decree by deleting links to seemingly innocuous online articles in order to heighten tensions surrounding the controversial issue of ‘censorship’.
Occurring mere weeks after a landmark ruling by the ECJ which condoned the ‘right to be forgotten’ measure, the move from google is undoubtedly radical. Rampant debate ensued over how to balance peoples’ right to privacy and freedom of expression.
The move by google has been described as a ‘tactical’ ploy by Ryan Harris, spokesman for the European Commission’s (EC) vice president. Harris goes on to dismiss the internet giant’s action as ‘not good judgement’, stating that the EC’s ruling should not serve as a means for people to ‘photoshop their lives’.
Articles about a lying footballing referee, ‘foul mouthed’ former president of the Law Society and Kelly Osbourne’s personal woes were amongst the first batch of online articles disposed of. However, it is BBC economics editor, Robert Peston’s, piece on ex-Merrill Lynch CEO Stan O’Neal, which condemned the banking bigwig’s conduct during the financial crisis, which has caused the greatest uproar.
Google, however, vigorously refute any suggestions that they misconstrued the ruling. However, there is a growing consensus amongst privacy campaigners that the multinational internet mammoth are playing “silly political games” in order to undermine the European ruling.
Jim Killock, executive director of Open Rights Group said: “The ruling was clear that results that relate to articles that are in the public interest shouldn’t be removed.”
He added: “Google may dislike the ruling and want to discredit it, but that doesn’t mean that they should apply it incorrectly in order to provoke a reaction.”
Alexander Hanff, chief executive of the Think Privacy group, declared that google acted in such a way “in order to apply political pressure into having the ruling challenged”.
He added: “They are hoping to use ‘freedom of the press’ as a means of attacking the decision and are effectively creating moral panic by making people believe that they are being forced to censor.”
However, there are loopholes. The European court ruling only accounts for European websites. So, by simply switching to a global website, the public can still gain access to information. Moreover, even when Google have deleted the links, a user can still find the appropriate comment by searching details of the subject rather than explicit names of individuals involved.
Besieged by demands for it to delete aspects of people’s lives globally, Google is struggling to cope. In excess of 70, 000 requests for links to be erased have been put in over the past month, of which roughly 8500 were from Britain. The scale is such that if all requests were acquiesced, over 250, 000 web pages would be deleted, an eighth of which due to British complaints.
Outcry against the ruling has been vociferous in recent times with Peston saying that the loopholes, previously identified in this piece, made a “whole nonsense of the ruling”.
This viewpoint is given added emphasis by Wikipedia co-founder, Jimmy Wales, a member of an expert panel set up by google to deal with the issue, dismissed the European ruling as “an utter and complete disaster” and dubbed it “a major human rights violation”.
“If search engines really believe this is a poor ruling then they should make a clear stand against it by kicking all right to be forgotten requests to data protection authorities to make decisions,” posited Jodie Ginsberg, chief executive of Index on Censorship.
Prior to the first removal, a Google spokesperson stated: “We have recently started taking action on the removals requests we’ve received after the European Court of Justice decision. This is a new and evolving process for us. We’ll continue to listen to feedback and will also work with data protection authorities and others as we comply with the ruling.”