In May, Google started allowing people in Europe to request that articles about them to be removed from its search results. We now know what kind of thing people wouldn’t like you to see.
If there’s an article about you on the internet and you don’t like it, you can appeal to Google for it not to appear in search results when someone searches for your name in Europe.
This is all because of an EU Court of Justice ruling which gives people the right to request that “irrelevant” or outdated information about them be taken down – known as the “right to be forgotten”.
This week European publishers started to be affected by this, receiving the notification, via Google Webmaster: “Notice of removal from Google Search: we regret to inform you that we are no longer able to show the following pages from your website in response to certain searches on European versions of Google.”
Two important points:
- Google doesn’t say exactly who makes the complaints – all we know is that someone mentioned in these articles has applied to the “right to be forgotten” scheme.
- Google isn’t asking publishers to remove anything, nor is it taking things out of its search index entirely. Google is restricting search results, meaning that while searching for someone’s name might have previously brought up a news article about them in the past, if they’ve applied to this scheme you now might not see it.
Here are the stories that someone would rather you didn’t read.
1. A 2007 blog post by the BBC’s economics editor, Robert Peston, about Stan O’Neal, the former CEO and chairman of Merrill Lynch.
Peston wrote with some alarm about the takedown this morning, writing: “What it means is that a blog I wrote in 2007 will no longer be findable when searching on Google in Europe.”
However he later admitted in an update to the post that the original article was still findable via Google. It seems that the complainant wasn’t O’Neal but one of the 27 commenters below the line.
2. A 2002 Guardian article about solicitor who was facing a £1.6 million fraud trial standing to join the ruling council of the Law Society.
3. A 2010 Guardian article about a referee who lied about reversing the decision to award a penalty during a Glasgow Celtic match.
4. This 2011 article from The Guardian about people doing Post-it art in Paris.
5. An entire week of blog posts from The Guardian’s media blogger Roy Greenslade.
6. This Daily Mail article from 2011 about an airport worker accusing an airline of racism.
7. This 2009 article from the Mail On Sunday about Tesco staff posting offensive messages on Facebook.
8. An Oxford Mail story from 2006 about an archaeologist being convicted for shoplifting.
9. A 1999 article from The Independent about the new head of the Law Society, and his colourful language.
10. The Telegraph says that Google has removed links to four versions of two images used to illustrate its coverage of Max Mosley’s 2008 privacy court case against News of the World.
The images showed the women who were reported to have took part in the sex session that was the centre of the court case.
11. The Telegraph also says a 2009 article about Londoners moving to the country has been affected.
Is there a way to get around this? Yes there is: just search for whatever you’re looking for at Google.com instead of your local European version.
Google.com, the default US version of the search engine, isn’t covered by these changes. Google.co.uk, Google.fr, Google.es and so on are all affected. “Right to be forgotten” is a European-only ruling.
If you search for the referee Dougie McDonald, as the picture of the left above shows, Google.co.uk redacts the results. But Google.com does not, as the picture on the right shows (as The Guardian has pointed out).
UPDATE – July 4: The BBC is reporting that Google is working its way through 250,000 links that people want removed from the Google search index.
Some 70,000 requests have been made with each person requesting an average of 3.8 links are taken down. France is the leading country for requests, with 14,000, followed by Germany, on 12,600 and the UK, with 8,400.
Ryan Heath, spokesman for the European Commission’s vice-president said there was no “reasonable public interest” in Google taking down links to old news stories.