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Google Restores Some Links To Articles Removed In 'Right To Be Forgotten' Mess

from the so-how's-this-work-now? dept

Last week, of course, there was a lot of attention around Google alerting publications that some of their stories had been removed from its index over “right to be forgotten” requests, following a dangerous European Court of Justice ruling. Various publications in the UK complained about some of the removals, and requested if there was any sort of appeals process. The BBC was initially told that there was no such process, though the Guardian claimed it was looking for ways to appeal.

It appears that the current “appeals” process is based on how much attention and ridiculousness happen in response to the revelations. Because late last week, Google restored some of the links for the Guardian (mainly the ones where the removals made no sense at all).

Either way, this has now created quite a mess, which was easily predictable as soon as the court’s ruling came down. How anyone can think a somewhat arbitrary censorship mechanism would function smoothly is beyond me.

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Comments on “Google Restores Some Links To Articles Removed In 'Right To Be Forgotten' Mess”

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52 Comments
MadAsASnake (profile) says:

A lot of people have been slagging off Google over this. While I think that Google was way too quick to offer a “process”, Google is stuck with a ruling that they must attempt to honour.

The problem of course is in the order itself, which attempts to make Google responsible for what others may think is relevant or not. The number of cases where this course of action could be reasonable is vanishingly small (and the originating one, where some idiot wants to hide his former bankruptcy, is NOT one – it is highly relevant to other lenders). Of those vanishingly small number of cases, the Streisand effect is likely to make the problem worse, not better.

Google has also been accused of “gaming” this ruling as a form of protest (accepting ridiculous requests), but again, where should the draw that line? The ECJ ruling is particularly useless in that regard. What is actually being gamed is the ruling itself, which is a barn door for abuse.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

Google has also been accused of “gaming” this ruling as a form of protest (accepting ridiculous requests),

Another case, like DMCA notices, where a third party is expected to make correct decision on incomplete information, and hire the necessary expertise, at their own cost, to do so.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:

Isn’t that always the case with jurisprudence based on very imprecise laws without specific guidelines?

The mess is the lack of paperwork to support the specific elements in the ruling and therefore the lack of a more reasonable test for eligibility of the claims. The way it has been carried out both by the court and Google has been unprofessional. I would call Googles implementation childish and a practical joke, but then again, the lack of specific eligibility testing makes it quite the problem either way.

IIRC right to be forgotten is based on the juridical safeguards of rights upheld by the legal system and law enforcement: Cases have different obsolence dates, based on percieved severity, but a minor crime committed in your youth shall not haunt you the rest of your life since it will disappear from the public registers an employer can get from the police and it cannot be legally pursued.

Trying to expand that legal protection beyond the public system is very questionable since it can be percieved as censorship of free speech.

Anonymous Coward says:

The most disturbing thing about BBC being censored, is that BBC’s articles were removed due to comments being made beneath the article in the comments section.

So thanks to the UK courts pro-censorship ruling, websites will now be encouraged to prevent people from commenting on their articles.

Duke (profile) says:

Re: Re:

To correct you a bit, the BBC articles weren’t removed from Google search; they were only removed when connected with the name of the person who had complained (which we think was one of the commenters). If Google did remove the article completely they went way beyond what the law requires of them.

Secondly, it wasn’t a UK court ruling, but an EU one; and depending on how you define censorship, it was pro-censorship, but pro-privacy. Although all the court really did was say that search engines weren’t immune from the existing laws.

Duke (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

“the sites that actually contain this “privacy-invading” data … are apparently immune from the very same existing laws”

Nope. The sites have to follow the law as well. The difference is that in some cases the sites’ processing of the data (it is about processing, not containing – search engines do process personal data) may fall within an exception to the rules, which may not apply to the search engine.

But going after Google – in a case where they’ve provided a handy form – is far easier.

John Fenderson (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Re:

“may fall within an exception to the rules, which may not apply to the search engine.”

Which is what makes no sense whatsoever to me.

If the disparaging information is a problem, then remove the disparaging information. Censoring search engine results is not removing disparaging information, it’s only removing pointers to that information and doing harm to entities that are not responsible for the presence of that information.

Duke (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:3 Re:

The Court considered this argument and rejected it on the basis that much of the Internet runs on search engines.

In the original Spanish case the information was on an official government (or government-required?) website. But it was one data entry in thousands (if not millions), and no one would be able to find it unless they happened to go to that page. But because the page was indexed by Google, anyone putting the applicant’s name into Google would find the page straight away.

Search engines make finding obscure bits of information (and connecting them up with other data – such as a person’s name) really easy; that’s their point. But it also means they are particularly important when it comes to data protection.

Ninja (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:3 Re:

That. If they went after the sources themselves it would be one thing (equally worrying if it’s about factual content). It’s easier to target a non-target just because it’s bigger though. Why is bing exempted from it? Why aren’t them going after every single search engine then? Google is just the low-hanging fruit.

Who Cares (profile) says:

The best thing Google could have done would have been sending the first batch, that is all forty thousand plus requests, to the appropriate court.
Why? There are no guidelines yet on what falls under that ‘right to be forgotten’-ruling. And it is not the responsibility of Google but the court(s) to setup those.

What they did now, randomly removing links to big newspaper stories/link pages, did get publicity but does nothing to pressure the correct target into altering their stance.

Duke (profile) says:

Re: just Google?

CJEU rulings are references; the domestic court asks the CJEU some questions as to interpreting EU law. So while Google was one of the parties to the case, their ruling is about the law, specifically that search engines process personal data, so have to abide by the Data Protection rules.

All search engines are covered by the ruling. But we’re only hearing about Google because… well, a cynic would say because what’s happened is all PR, with no substance.

Craig Welch (profile) says:

Re: Re: just Google?

… we’re only hearing about Google because… well, a cynic would say because what’s happened is all PR, with no substance.

We’re hearing about it because it was Google that brought the case to the Spanish High Court, and therefore Google was listed as a party when that court stayed proceedings and referred it to the EU Court.

Summary

A Spaniard, Mr Mario González, was concerned that when his name was ‘Googled’ it showed him involved in a property sale that had gone bad in 1998. He did not dispute the accuracy of the result, but believed that it painted him in a bad light and it was reasonable to have the search results nullified so that such old details would not come to light. Google declined to act in accordance with his wishes, and González approached Agencia Española de Protección de Datos, the Data Protection Agency. The Agency ruled in his favour, And Google appealed to the Audiencia Nacional (High Court). This led to a request for a preliminary ruling in the CJEU as to whether Google was included in the Data Protection Directive, and whether there was in fact a ‘right to be forgotten’. In the judgment, Google was included in the scope of the Directive, but of more importance, the Court held that search engines must provide a mechanism to remove search results that are ‘inadequate, irrelevant or excessive’. This is of greater significance in that the Regulation will soon be replaced with a new General Data Protection Regulation, which is based on a proposal in 2012. That Regulation includes a ‘right to be forgotten’, called a ‘right to erasure’ in which an individual has a limited set of rights to demand that search engines cease providing links to certain results related to that individual.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: just Google?

The case was
Google Spain SL, Google Inc.
v
Agencia Española de Protección de Datos (AEPD), Mario Costeja González

Google was not mentioned in the four paragraphs of the ruling. They referred to ‘search engine operators’.

So yes, Bing is also in the same boat.

MadAsASnake (profile) says:

Re: Re: just Google?

Bing was not a party to the proceedings. Can you show the mechanism? Because I cannot see it. I also don’t understand what statute could possibly be interpreted this way, so in all seriousness, I can’t see it applying to Bing or Yahoo, unless someone wastes their time bringing a case against them.

I believe Google has already shown the impossibilities associated with actually attempting to do this. I don’t think you’d need to dig very deep to uncover just how little the judge comprehends a.) the Internet, and b.) Google.

Duke (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: just Google?

Bing was not a party to the proceedings. Can you show the mechanism? … I also don’t understand what statute could possibly be interpreted this way,… I can’t see it applying to Bing or Yahoo…

There’s a thing called the Data Protection Directive, which requires all EU Governments to introduce a law implementing its provisions across their country – you can read more about the Data Protection Directive, along with some stuff about this new ruling, here.

Article 12(b) of the Directive contains a sort of “right to be forgotten”; that a person can ask anyone covered by the Directive to stop processing their personal data if that processing falls outside the rules in the Directive.

This recent CJEU ruling (which is a reference interpreting the law) said – among other things – that the data processing search engines do is covered by the Directive.

The judges in this case knew exactly what they were doing, what the consequences would be, and how the Internet works. But they can’t make up or change the law. Which is why the Commission and Parliament are in the process of coming up with a new Data Protection law – to fix this problem, and many other issues that have arisen with the law since it was drafted in the 90s.

tl;dr: the court case just says that search engines have to follow the law. So Bing, Yahoo, to the extent that they are search engines, will be covered by it.

RD says:

Re: Re: Re: just Google?

“I believe Google has already shown the impossibilities associated with actually attempting to do this. I don’t think you’d need to dig very deep to uncover just how little the judge comprehends a.) the Internet, and b.) Google.”

Thats because, to technologically illiterate judges (which is virtually all of them, everywhere), Google IS “the internet” therefore they can just “magic wand” it away and comply with any court order no matter how ridiculous.

Ninja (profile) says:

Re: intentional?

That’s what was discussed a few comments above. If they are doing it in fact then kudos for them. If you have to follow the law then do it strictly. The courts can’t really complain. However if they are NOT doing it on purpose it might be even worse since it’s just proof the thing inflicts much more damage than any prediction made so far.

John85851 (profile) says:

Not the court's responsibility

How anyone can think a somewhat arbitrary censorship mechanism would function smoothly is beyond me.
But that’s not the court’s responsibility: they make the rules and let the companies figure how how to follow them. And if the company can’t do it (or can’t figure out what the rules even mean), then it’s back to court!

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Not the court's responsibility

You’re contradicting yourself there. If you’d have to go back to the court because the company can’t figure out how to follow non-specific and even impossible rules that the court created, then it clearly was the court’s responsibility to clarify its ruling so as to allow the company to understand how to follow it.

Craig Welch (profile) says:

Re: There are public data term limits to apply, but the court bodged it royally

From the cited blog: “In my humble opinion, the resolution of the court should have been to (quietly) order the Newspaper to remove (or obfuscate) his name from that article at source”.

Ridiculous. How does a court make a ‘quiet’ order? The judgment of the court is public record.

GEMont (profile) says:

Smoke Screen?

It was probably all just another NSA/CIA/FBI/HSA based operation and in fact only a small number of highly embarrassing and dangerously informative articles, postings, images and documents were intended for removal.

The insane legal ruling was actually intended to allow a massive number of such removals to occur over a short period of time as a smoke screen, so that the few truly important ones could be disappeared quietly in the background while everyone was giggling about the long line-up of obvious assholes trying to hide their obvious assholiness.

Now that the job is done and no-one the wiser, “common sense” will soon appear to have raised its ugly head and these idiotic pro-censorship legal rulings will be removed from the law.

GEMont (profile) says:

Re: Re: Smoke Screen?

Missed the point?

You do understand the term “smoke screen” right?

I’ll try a slightly different wording:

Its all a trick.

The bad boys want to make something on the web disappear without anyone noticing, so they had a law passed that would allow a huge number of “requests” by assholes, to remove the evidence of their assholiness from the web, knowing full well that the assholes would jump at the chance in droves.

Whether or not anything came of these requests – such as “web pages being removed” – is immaterial, because the purpose is to create a chaotic situation during which the very important something that certain parties want removed, can be quietly disappeared, while everyone is busy looking “over there” and giggling at all the assholes.

Once the real purpose of this farce is accomplished, the silly laws will be repealed and nobody will be the wiser.

The third word in my original comment above is “probably”.

This was just a suggested rationale behind the making of this absurd law, not a comment on the number of websites that would go missing because of it.

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