Google Takes A Hit As Regulators Force Deletion Of ‘Right To Be Forgotten’ News Stories

CREDIT: SHUTTERSTOCK
CREDIT: SHUTTERSTOCK

Google has long opposed Europe’s “right to be forgotten” laws that require the search engine giant to remove links to outdated or irrelevant information about an individual upon request. But the European Union is now forcing the company to go a step further and delete links to recent news stories reporting on an individual’s quest to be forgotten.

Since the laws were enacted last year, Google has received nearly 300,000 take-down requests for more than a million links, mainly from privacy-concerned members of the public, honoring just 41 percent of them. The UK’s Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) issued an order demanding Google to remove nine newsworthy links that reference an individual’s successful claim to remove links referencing a past crime, in the next 35 days.

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Google previously refused to delete the links citing public interest but the ICO’ deputy commissioner David Smity disagreed: “We understand that links being removed as a result of this court ruling is something that newspapers want to write about. And we understand that people need to be able to find these stories through search engines like Google. But that does not need them to be revealed when searching on the original complainant’s name.”

The case illustrates the increasingly fluid nature of public interest, speech, and privacy concerns. British media outlets have sided with Google, denouncing regulators for depriving the public of relevant information.

Oxford Mail and Oxford Times editor Simon O’Neill told the Wall Street Journal, “Convicted criminals [are] attempting to erase all trace of their deeds from the public eye and the European Court and ICO are actively aiding and abetting them. Some are petty thieves and people with relatively minor convictions. But there are also serious offenders using this as a smokescreen for their horrible deeds.”

“Right to be forgotten” laws drew international criticism for infringing on news outlets and potentially leading to chilled speech if adopted beyond the EU. But the ICO order speaks to emboldened privacy values and deepening mistrust of American tech companies in the wake of the National Security Agency’s document leaks in 2013. As a result, the EU is challenging a 15-year long data-sharing agreement with the U.S. and is suing numerous social media and tech companies for leaking consumer data to the NSA.