Google to flag 'right to be forgotten' censored search results

Filed Under: Featured, Google, Law & order, Privacy

Image of Removed stamp courtesy of Shutterstock, Google search results from Wikimedia CommonsGoogle may be forced to forget about you, but it just might stick a flag on the search results it's reluctantly expunged.

According to The Guardian, the search giant plans to put an alert at the bottom of every page where it's been compelled to remove links in the wake of the recent, landmark "right to be forgotten" court ruling.

Last month, at the command of the EU's Court of Justice, Google reluctantly put out a "forget me" form to enable European Union citizens to request that it remove links that include their name and that are deemed "inadequate, irrelevant or no longer relevant, or excessive in relation to the purposes for which they were processed."

By the end of the first day, 12,000 Europeans had submitted the form.

As of last week, that number had hit 41,000 requests, at the rate of about 10,000 per day.

According to the Financial Times, those familiar with the search results removal process say that the takedown requests are coming in from across the EU, with a particularly high proportion coming from Germany and the UK.

The requests reportedly include one from a man who tried to kill his family and wanted a link to a news article about it taken down.

Other requests have come in from a politician with a murky past and a convicted paedophile, the Guardian reports.

Google chief executive Larry Page has said that nearly a third of the 41,000 requests received related to a fraud or scam, one-fifth concerned serious crime, and 12% are connected to child pornography arrests.

The Guardian says that Google plans to flag censored search results much like it alerts users to takedown requests over copyright infringing material.

When links have been removed from a list of search results, Google provides a notification at the bottom of that page and links to a separate page at chillingeffects.org, an archive of cease-and-desist notices meant to protect lawful online activity from legal threats.

On the site, each listing displays the name of the complainant, the title of the copyrighted content and a list of allegedly infringing URLs. The site at the link given above, for example, lists 640 URLs that allegedly infringe on Walt Disney's "Maleficent" film.

Google considers the enforced expunging to be censorship, and it's got some heavyweights on its side.

Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales has condemned the ruling, telling Tech Crunch in an interview over the weekend that it was a "terrible danger" that could make it more difficult to make "real progress on privacy issues."

Wales is one of a seven-person advisory committee set up by Google to issue recommendations about where the boundaries of the public interest lie in the requests.

Wales told Tech Crunch that in spite of the tens of thousands of people eager to have their pasts erased from search results, the ruling simply amounts to censorship of knowledge, packaged in "incoherent legislation":

In the case of truthful, non-defamatory information obtained legally, I think there is no possibility of any defensible 'right' to censor what other people are saying.

We have a typical situation where incompetent politicians have written well-meaning but incoherent legislation without due consideration for human rights and technical matters.

I've asked Google if it will begin placing notifications on pages where it has removed links due to "right to be forgotten" requests. I'll update the story if any comment is forthcoming.

Images from Shutterstock and Creative Commons.

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13 Responses to Google to flag 'right to be forgotten' censored search results

  1. Alan · 114 days ago

    So fraudsters and scammers have links to information about their past exploits removed from search results now? I fail to see how this benefits anyone other than the fraudsters and scammers trying to dupe more people...

  2. Joey L · 114 days ago

    It won't be long before SEO black hats figure a way to game this system to increase their page ranks or mess with their client's competitors...

  3. Sammie · 114 days ago

    As always Google finds a way to get past the restrictions and what they have to legally abide by. If this is the case with the citizens of EU, what chance does citizens of other countries have with this intrusive nature. People make a great deal of fuss about government surveillance and praise Snowden, but where are these intellects when private companies collect, mine and sell their information. Also I wonder if the same rules could be made to apply to the likes of Facebook?

  4. Google never deletes anything. The keyword here is 'FLAG.' They are merely adding a value to the individual records that should not be DISPLAYED in a search result, but the data still remains in their storage system.
    They are just adding a field with a Yes or No value and probably a field to identify which message should appear in place of the record.

    Do not think, even for one minute, they will actually erase any data.

    • 2072 · 114 days ago

      If they were to actually erase the data completely their bot would discover and index the page again that would then reappear in the search results as if nothing happened... So Flagging is the only way to make this work.

      • Andrew Ludgate · 113 days ago

        Well, the other method would be to require the pages themselves to either have a "nofollow" line in robots.txt, or to just be removed completely.

        The issue here is that an indexing engine has been compelled by the EU courts to no longer display results for people on a blacklist. They have not been compelled to stop indexing, and the original sites have not been compelled to take the information offline.

        So the "right to be forgotten" is more realistically a "right to relative obscurity" -- the information isn't going anywhere.

        How has this ruling affected others such as DuckDuckGo?

  5. Anonymous · 113 days ago

    Google and most major search engines commit copyright infringement on a massive scale and then profit from that infringement. Contrary to what some courts might say, just because a piece of information is publicly accessible via the Internet does not mean that anyone has any right to that information to buy, sell, reproduce, modify, abstract, package, or exploit it for personal gain or profit. When everything is connected 24x7 to the Internet of Things and you are forced by IT companies to store all of your personal and business records in the "public" cloud, does that then also mean that all of your "publicly" accessible information on the Internet is fair game for unlimited, unrestricted, and indefinite use? Protections for profiting off of someone's likeness, image, brand, or information should not only be available to the rich, famous, or those with armies of lawyers to protect themselves and to keep others from unfairly profiting from them.

    • Deonast · 113 days ago

      In order to show a search result that you can actually evaluate before having to click on every result you need at least an extract or summary. Your beef appears to be that search engines even exist. Try and navigate the internet without one now and see how you go.

    • 4caster · 113 days ago

      Anyone has the right to enforce copyright on something that he or she has created. But no-one has the right to blockade the distribution of accurate material that somebody else has created referring to him or her. People who live in glass houses shouldn't throw stones!
      So, yes, I do believe that embarrassing information about anyone should be freely distributed on the web, provided that it is true and has been obtained lawfully. If it is untrue or has been obtained unlawfully, the complainant has a remedy at law.

  6. RF · 113 days ago

    People should not be defined forever by the lowest moments in their lives. If they are law abiding, have done their time etc, they have the right for those results to be removed.

    • 4caster · 113 days ago

      People's history should not be erased. But they have a right of reply, for example if they have reformed and/or paid penance.

  7. In the USA, we have forced police to advise people of their rights, before they are questioned. Does this only protect criminals? I say no, as most criminals know their rights. Many of the things we see appear to support criminal activity, but in the light of all things, many are just safeguards to assist people from falling into something they cannot control or expect. Here we also say after prison time, they paid their debt to society. However that record follows them through life and many times allows police to grab and interrogate them about crimes. Not everyone comes out of prison ''adjusted", but the concept is there.

    I agree that Google will never delete information, and they will just flag it. However if you have information they have collected, it seems like you should be able to ask them to remove that information. If you have done something that is documented, removal is against the overall good of the people (Socialist?) and should be accessible. Maybe the law needs tweaking, as most new laws do, to address the items not covered by the original law.

    Jack

  8. European data protection standards are openly available to google's lawyers.

    If google is not happy to comply with the law then they have a simple option - do not operate in EU countries. No one forces them to do business in the EU.

    This is the same choice as google gives customers - if you are not happy with intensive surveillance by google, don't sign up to use google services.

    What's the problem? Google have been informed and now have a choice.

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About the author

I've been writing about technology, careers, science and health since 1995. I rose to the lofty heights of Executive Editor for eWEEK, popped out with the 2008 crash, joined the freelancer economy, and am still writing for my beloved peeps at places like Sophos's Naked Security, CIO Mag, ComputerWorld, PC Mag, IT Expert Voice, Software Quality Connection, Time, and the US and British editions of HP's Input/Output. I respond to cash and spicy sites, so don't be shy.