In the ongoing privacy battle raging between Google and Europe, the search engine has been dealt another blow. The United Kingdom recently ordered Google to remove a total of nine links that currently direct viewers to news stories that concern older reports that have been struck from search results, as per the controversial “right to be forgotten” rule. According to the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO), who issued the ruling, when searching for an individual’s name, previously removed results should be completely erased from the Internet’s history, which makes these news stories subject to removal as well.
Of course, this presents something of a slippery slope for not only Google, but the ICO and other watchdog groups as well — while the “right to be forgotten” mandate was originally intended to clear the web’s cache of old and irrelevant stories, it’s quickly becoming an excuse for what some consider significant censorship.
Ironically, the reason the new stories are being written is that the old ones were removed — one man petitioned Google to remove links to stories about a “minor criminal offense” that he’d committed nearly 10 years ago in 1998. When Google agreed (a move the firm now surely regrets), a number of publications picked up the story as newsworthy, leading to a new slew of articles about the individual and mentions of his crime. This is why you don’t kick the hornet’s nest, kids.
In explaining the ICO’s decision, Deputy Commissioner David Smith said, “Google was right, in its original decision, to accept that search results relating to the complainant’s historic conviction were no longer relevant and were having a negative impact on privacy. It is wrong of them to now refuse to remove newer links that reveal the same details and have the same negative impact.” The ICO agrees that Google should evaluate the removal of links based on whether they have, as the tech giant says, “a matter of significant public importance.” Still, there clearly exists some difference of opinion when it comes to what actually qualifies as “significant.”
Smith continued, “Let’s be clear. 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.”
From the day of the ruling, Google has 35 days to comply with the ICO’s orders, though they certainly have the opportunity to appeal. And if things go the way they have across the rest of Europe, it’s likely that this will be a long, drawn-out battle impacting free speech and anti-censorship.