BBC Has 12 More Articles Shoved Down The Google Memory Hole Thanks To 'Right To Be Forgotten'

from the gone-but-not-forgotten dept

The European Court of Justice’s awful “right to be forgotten” ruling is continuing to memory hole perfectly factual stories — but publications like the BBC are bringing them back to light. Google has informed the BBC of 12 more stories that it is removing from its index thanks to requests from individuals who’d prefer that their history no longer be accessible to the public. While Google does not reveal who is making the request, it’s often not too difficult to figure it out — even though Google is now warning the BBC that sometimes the requester’s name may only be in the comments.

Two stories relate to the high-profile case of a British woman found guilty of running “one of Europe’s biggest prostitution rings” in 2003.

Other stories taken down covered a wide range of incidents. Google removed a 2002 story concerning a dispute between two Somerset families over the ownership of a wire-haired terrier called Wellie.

Another removed story concerns a car thief branded an “idiot” by his own barrister, while yet another features an 18-year-old Bristol student convicted of drink-driving after crashing his Mini into the steps of his university campus.

Some of the other listed, but memory-holed articles:

  • A man cleared of a stabbing in London in 2010
  • The jailing of a former Daily Mail employee who threatened to hack the newspaper in 2000
  • A 2009 diary entry from the BBC’s then-Jerusalem correspondent Tim Franks on the merits of hummus
  • A 2005 page of appeals from those looking for family members missing after the Asia tsunami
  • A selection of readers’ comments on the terror threat posed by al-Qaeda in 2005
  • I’m still trying to figure out what good this effort accomplishes. Deleting factual things makes no sense. Allowing people to go back and erase perhaps embarrassing things from their past may have a visceral appeal, but it’s just silly. People do embarrassing things that they later regret. It’s a part of life. Part of maturing is being able to admit that you did silly things in the past and that you learned from them. Trying to disappear them down the memory hole seems to highlight how an immature person remained immature.

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    Companies: bbc, google

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    Comments on “BBC Has 12 More Articles Shoved Down The Google Memory Hole Thanks To 'Right To Be Forgotten'”

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    50 Comments
    Anonymous Coward says:

    Let’s see if this can make it past TD’s c e n s o r s

    “your comment has been held for moderation”

    I’m pretty sure the “right to be forgotten” is now the direct cause for the I*ra*l-Pale*tin* conflict, unrest in Missouri, and possibly A I D S in A*rica.

    Thank g*d Techdirt is bringing the most important issue of the 21st century to the attention of pir*tes everywhere.

    Anonymous Coward says:

    Re: Re:

    You are an idiot.

    Comments get held in moderation if you constantly spam or contain certain combinations of words. Note that this is an anti spam measure and not truly censorship.

    Which from the content of your comment is a case in point. If you were to contribute something worthwhile to any discussion it would make it to the comments section.

    Anonymous Coward says:

    ‘ disappear them down the memory hole seems to highlight how an immature person remained immature.’

    more than that, it shows how immature those who made the whole decision for it to happen in the first place are! and these are supposed to be the top legal minds in the EU!! dont give too much in the way of faith in other decisions they may make!!

    Duke (profile) says:

    Re: Re:

    The articles aren’t going anywhere – the search engines are required to disconnect the article from whatever term they’re using that counts as a person’s personal information. In theory anything that is of interest to a historian shouldn’t be being de-linked.

    Also, can we stop blaming the CJEU for this? The ruling is perfectly well-reasoned and it is a little difficult to imagine them ruling the other way without ignoring the law. The problem (to the extent that there is one) is with the underlying law (from the 90s) and how search engines either weren’t thought of when it was drafted, or how modern search engines never thought they would have to comply with it when they set up.

    John Fenderson (profile) says:

    Re: Re: Re:

    “can we stop blaming the CJEU for this? The ruling is perfectly well-reasoned”

    No, because the ruling is nowhere near perfectly well-reasoned. If the information they want to suppress rises to the legal standard that calls for suppression, then that’s what should happen: take the information down.

    Putting the onus for this censorship on unrelated third parties makes the opposite of sense.

    Anonymous Coward says:

    depending on what the problem is If you were found Not-Guilty after a long and public trial, (understand mass media using controversy push adverti$ing), the records of that trial are injuring and inhibiting your opportunities, It may be quicken up the process of restoring your reputation (Do you understand the concept of a malicious prosecution – a prosecutor looking to big-note themselves). Unfortunately the Court of Justice did not rule on a full set of circumstances to be forgotten.

    If google keeps with this policy of reporting this Memory Hole Stuff the politicians will be forced to balance the conflict between a reasonable right to get on with your life and the right for the public to know the truth (I know your disbelief in the pollies, but this partisan warfare between pollies is an institutional feature of US politics, but elsewhere in the world…)

    Anonymous Coward says:

    Re: Re:

    This. I usually agree with the people here on techdirt, but in the caseof right-to-be-forgotten, I feel like theu are completely ignoring the very real issue of people who get accused of something, but not convicted or even prosecuted. There are quite simply some things that can tarnish a reputation for life, irrespective of whether or not you actually did what youre accused of, or whether you’ve changed your tune since. Its all well and good to say that we should let whats in the past stay there, but really now, how often do people do that? I’ve seen mostly the opposite – people react to new information as if it just happened, even if the event in question was years ago. Im not sure that should give us a blanket right to disappear stuff, but its a point that needs considering, and ive not seen it discussed at all here.

    Anonymous Coward says:

    Re: Re:

    Part of the problem is that the boundary between the right to be forgotten and the right to delete information about you in databases[1] is rather blurry and offers nasty potential for loopholes.

    To protect against perp walking, I do quite like the rule South Australia has for sex cases, which prohibits publishing the identity of suspects until they are indicted unless the suspect gives permission. People are permitted to discuss the case, or even stand on a street corner yelling the identity of the suspect, but they can’t broadcast it or distribute printed text. It might be better to extend that to all offences, and to extend that until the person is convicted.

    [1] For many years EU residents have had the right to demand to see (and correct) any records companies hold on them, and more recently to force companies to delete or anonymise records held on them if they are not in a current business relationship with them.

    John Fenderson (profile) says:

    Re: Re: Re:

    “For many years EU residents have had the right to demand to see (and correct) any records”

    Now that makes sense. But I don’t see how that relates even a little to the demand being placed on search engines. Search engines only point to what exists elsewhere. If those records are incorrect to need to be removed, then it should be done to the records themselves. Search engine results will quickly update to match.

    Anonymous Coward says:

    Re: Re: Re: Re:

    It also covers dossiers built up out of semi-public and public information, things like credit reporting agencies and so on, the logic being that assembling all the information allowed inferences to be drawn about people’s private information, and because it created an even greater asymmetry of information between individuals and businesses. The news reports are themselves protected (at the EU level, some countries have “clean slate” laws that restrict publishing information about spent convictions), but the search engines’ records are not.

    The rules didn’t really anticipate the importance of search engines.

    Adrian Lopez says:

    Re: Re: Re:

    For many years EU residents have had the right to demand to see (and correct) any records companies hold on them, and more recently to force companies to delete or anonymise records held on them if they are not in a current business relationship with them.

    This makes sense for data held in confidence by those businesses, but it doesn’t make sense for factual, public information. Public information should not be treated like private information, because it is not.

    Ninja (profile) says:

    In older days if someone acted like a douche society itself would keep the memory of the douchery. The main difference now is that some douches become newsworthy and are immortalized in the Internet or do it themselves and engrave their doucheness in comments and forums.

    Part of being human is erring, part of evolving and becoming a better person is to acknowledge the err, improve yourself with that knowledge and move on. Some people never learn.

    Anonymous Coward says:

    People do embarrassing things that they later regret. It’s a part of life. Part of maturing is being able to admit that you did silly things in the past and that you learned from them. Trying to disappear them down the memory hole seems to highlight how an immature person remained immature.

    This is not the only interpretation. Another is that those who want something to be forgotten don’t expect or already experienced that let’s say future or current employers are not as mature as expected.

    Perhaps in twenty years when we – as the whole society – accepts silly things done in the past as that, and we – again the society – understand that everything shows up in the Internet, yes then we might drop the right to be forgotten.

    Case says:

    Re: Re:

    It does show the article everywhere, because the “right to be forgotten” merely entails that certain results cannot be shown when searching for the name of the person.

    Despite all the hysteric claims by Techdirt and other publications, search engines do NOT have to remove those results from their index. Searching for keywords related to the story still brings them up as usual, just googling certain names doesn’t.

    Adrian Lopez says:

    Re: Re: Re: Re:

    The fact that the content remains available is irrelevant in determining whether or not the content is being censored. If searching for “Adolf Hitler” were to exclude results relating to Nazi Germany, it would be quite disingenuous to suggest it is not a form of censorship. Even if all the articles remained available and searchable under “Nazi Germany”, the content is being suppressed by making it harder to find.

    What good is the content being there if nobody knows how to find it?

    Whatever (profile) says:

    Re: Re: Re:2 Re:

    The fact that the content remains available is irrelevant in determining whether or not the content is being censored.

    So content that is freely and widely available is censored? Google is just a search engine, they don’t write or create the content. They can (and do) choose to list or not list sites in an incredibly arbitrary manner, yet your concern is that a very small number of exact name queries might not return the exact expected result?

    You should be way more worried that Google chooses not to list a whole bunch of sites or makes them generally unable to be found in their results because of “thin content”. It’s really funny to see an exact match domain (say “cheapstuff.com” not show up for a search like “cheap stuff”). They censor, block, and downgrade sites in their results every day based on arbitrary concepts such as if a site uses https or if it happens to have one too many links from a .edu domain – or not enough links from other places.

    Google complaining about censorship is so mind numbing in it’s gall, as to be almost beyond words.

    Adrian Lopez says:

    Re: Re: Re:3 Re:

    So content that is freely and widely available is censored?

    You have a very strange idea of “freely and widely available” there.

    They can (and do) choose to list or not list sites in an incredibly arbitrary manner…

    No, they cannot choose to list particular sites for a whole bunch of searches, because the government says they can’t. That’s the problem.

    Whatever (profile) says:

    Re: Re: Re:4 Re:

    The number of searches is very small (it appears mostly to be using the person’s name). The material is still on Google’s site indexed otherwise.

    Most importantly, the material is still on servers, and widely available from that source. BBC isn’t removing content, Google is removing their link to it when you search for a very particular term but not in general.

    It’s truly important, the content is still there and visible. You could link to it, you could tweet it, you could add it on your facebook page, and it’s still there.

    Google is not the start and the end of the internet (but some days it may seem like it).

    Adrian Lopez says:

    Re: Re: Re:5 Re:

    The number of searches is very small (it appears mostly to be using the person’s name).

    10,000 censorship requests per day is hardly “very small”.

    Most importantly, the material is still on servers, and widely available from that source.

    No. Widely available would be if Google and other search engines could include those links in their results. “Right to be forgotten” requests are meant to make content less “widely available”, for otherwise they would serve no purpose.

    The content is being suppressed. Even if it can still be reached through alternative channels, it is being suppressed.

    Google is removing their link to it when you search for a very particular term but not in general.

    The fact that they have to exclude links relevant to particular search terms is enough to make it a form censorship.

    You could link to it, you could tweet it, you could add it on your facebook page, and it’s still there.

    Not if you can’t find it initially. To quote Douglas Adams: “It was on display in the bottom of a locked filing cabinet stuck in a disused lavatory with a sign on the door saying ‘Beware of the Leopard’.”

    Case says:

    Re: Re: Re:6 Re:

    10,000 censorship requests per day is hardly “very small”.

    1.) That was the number given for the first four days. As with everything, the initial rush will have tapered down rapidly
    2.) For each of those 40,000 requests there are countless variants of search terms which can still produce that link, and one or two which can’t. In other words, the number of searches affected is indeed tiny.

    The fact that they have to exclude links relevant to particular search terms is enough to make it a form censorship.

    Freedom of speech, just like any other human right, is never without legal limits. This is not censorship, but the logical consequence of living in a world with population >1, and accordingly having different people with competing rights.

    John Fenderson (profile) says:

    Re: Re: Re:7 Re:

    “Freedom of speech, just like any other human right, is never without legal limits. This is not censorship”

    You’re correct, every right has logical limits (since every right can be exercised in a way that infringes on other rights, logically some restriction are inevitable.

    However, it is still censorship. The question is whether this particular censorship is acceptable or not.

    Ninja (profile) says:

    Re: Re: Re:5 Re:

    It is not visible. If it’s commonly known for that term then you are effectively blocking access to it. Revisiting the Nazi Germany example it would be like banning the search term Nazism because Germany doesn’t feel comfortable with it. The content is still there, you can still find things using alternative terms like 3rd Reich or something but it might just not return the same results you’d get or you would not think of using that term as an alternative.

    Google is not the start and the end of the internet (but some days it may seem like it).

    No but there’s a precedent, they may try to force other search engines to do it.

    Spin it as you like, this right to be forgotten is a huge problem specially when you are dealing with facts.

    Ninja (profile) says:

    Re: Re: Re:3 Re:

    Google is just a search engine, they don’t write or create the content.

    But it’s what makes the content researchable. You see, today it’s Google, tomorrow it’s all. And then FACTUAL content becomes lost even though it’s available.

    They can (and do) choose to list or not list sites in an incredibly arbitrary manner,

    And they shouldn’t. This is what happens when you give in to the MAFIAA. They should have let their algorithm do its magic and never removed a single result. Because they are intermediaries, not the ones providing the content. If those people are not satisfied with the articles let them go after BBC itself. If the MAFIAA doesn’t like the sharing go after the people sharing themselves. Every single million of them.


    Google complaining about censorship is so mind numbing in it’s gall, as to be almost beyond words.

    You are clearly a moron that doesn’t understand how search engines work. As for the censorship, thank your bosses at the MAFIAA. They are the cancer that’s eroding the freedom of speech in the Internet.

    Jeff Green (profile) says:

    What does the judgement really say?

    What the judgement actually says, as I understand it, is that if I search for A.N. Other, and A.N. Other has successfully convinced a court or Google that the fact that he painted his willy bright green and waved it at a crowd when he was 17, 30 years ago, is not representative of him now the newspaper report of that event will not appear.

    If however I search for green willy 30 years ago, Google is perfectly free to point at the new story.

    I personally think the judgement is silly and in most cases it will be counter-productive but it is nothing like as silly as various people want to make it out to be.

    Of course if I am wrong about the original ruling I deserve to be pointed out as a fool, and I shan’t demand the right for my foolishness to be forgotten

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