Is Google Search Result Removal Going Too Far?

    July 3, 2014
    Chris Crum
    Comments are off for this post.

Of course it is, and of course it will continue to do so.

Do you think Google removing results at people’s request is problematic? Share your thoughts in the comments.

You probably know the story by now. In May, the Court of of Justice of the European Union ruled that Google and other search engines must take requests from people for search results to be removed. Google has vocally opposed this for a long time, considering it a form of censorship, but ultimately, its hands became tied, and the process is now in effect in the EU.

Predictably, the results are already controversial, as the press is being censored.

Google was already getting thousands of requests before it even had a request tool. Once the tool became available, it got over 12,000 removal requests in the first day alone. From there it continued to average about 10,000 per day.

Last week, Google started actually removing results, honoring requests. It now includes a general statement on many search results pages in the EU, including those that didn’t necessarily bring up results related to requests. It says:

Some results may have been removed under data protection law in Europe. Learn more.

This is presumably Google’s way of keeping things as vague as possible, so what’s actually being censored isn’t so obvious.

This week, webmasters and publishers started getting notices from Google when their content has been removed from search results. Google is issuing notices through Webmaster Tools.

Alex Graves at David Naylor wrote:

Arriving into the office this morning we have seen as many as five instances across a number of clients that have received messages through the Webmaster Tools platform, informing them of specific URLs that Google are “no longer able to show”, pointing out that rather than a full removal the pages will be simply omitted from “certain searches on European versions of Google”.

URLs that are affected within the notifications seem to vary, the majority seeming to be profile related content while others seem to be focused towards user uploaded content.

Barry Schwartz from RustyBrick also reported seeing some notices. They say:

Notice of removal from Google Search

We regret to inform you that we are no longer able to show the following pages from your website in response to certain searches on European versions of Google…

The message then list the specific URLs that were affected.

This could quickly get out of hand as more and more requests are submitted. In fact, some would say it’s already gotten out of hand. High profile publishers including the BBC, The Guardian, and The Daily Mail are seeing their content removed from search results.

BBC economics editor Robert Peston writes about a post of his that was removed from searches involving former Merrill Lynch boss Stan O’Neal. The post, as he says, deals with how O’Neal was forced out after the bank suffered big losses on “reckless investments”.

“Most people would argue that it is highly relevant for the track record, good or bad, of a business leader to remain on the public record – especially someone widely seen as having played an important role in the worst financial crisis in living memory (Merrill went to the brink of collapse the following year, and was rescued by Bank of America),” says Peston. “So there is an argument that in removing the blog, Google is confirming the fears of many in the industry that the “right to be forgotten” will be abused to curb freedom of expression and to suppress legitimate journalism that is in the public interest.”

The Guardian was notified of six removed articles including three about retired Scottish Premier League referee Dougie McDonald, who was reportedly found to have lied about his reasons for granting a penalty. Also included was another was about French office workers making post-it-art, and one about a solicitor facing a fraud trial.

As The Guardian’s James Ball notes, the publication wasn’t given any reason for the articles’ deletion.

The Daily Mail says it had a story about the Merrill Lynch banker and one about the referee were removed from search results as well.

And this is only just beginning.

Now, stories about Google removing results about these people are scattered throughout the results for searches on their names, pretty much as expected.

Like John Oliver said in his brilliant segment about the Court’s ruling, and the particular case it was based on, “The only thing I know about him is the only thing he didn’t want me to know.”

According to Peston, Google has hired “an army of para legal” to process “right to be forgotten” requests, and had already received 50,000 requests for articles to be removed from European searches by the time he posted his article.

Google doesn’t have to comply with all requests, and can choose to fight them in court if it wants. Removing results and issuing a blanket disclaimer is likely to be a more cost effective solution for the company, however. With its disclaimer, and explanation of why results have been removed, it can still look like the good guy in all of this, and in reality in this particular case, Google is the good guy.

Remember, Google didn’t want to do this, but is being forced to. It will be interesting to see if it’s eventually forced to do so in other parts of the world.

Also, Bing and Yahoo are working on their versions of the request tool. This is not just a Google thing.

Google says it will include the requests in its transparency report.

What do you think? Is this “right to be forgotten” thing going too far? Is this going to do real damage to the nature of information retrieval online? Share your thoughts in the comments.

  • fran farrell

    My paralegal is cheaper than your lawyer, so sue me.

    Your case will be scheduled for year(s) in the future; meanwhile your lawyer will be charging you $100s/hour, while Google’s ‘Paralegals R Us’ contractor won’t be charging Google anything. Year(s) later when the case makes it to court the Google Legal A-Team ($1000/hour) will publicly embarrass you and your legal team.

  • Bantu

    Confucius said, “The beginning of wisdom is to call things by their proper name.”

    The name of this thing is Censorship.

  • Rob Donovan

    Its a terrible decision.

    If there is something on the internet, that isnt true, then firstly, ask the site who put it there to remove it, and if they dont comply, then you have to launch legal proceedings against them, thats how it works in any other publication of incorrect information.

    Only courts should be allowed to decide what is removed.

    It is in no way Google’s problem, and shouldn’t be, and its absolutely pointless with how the internet works. They need to remove the source.

    European politics is just awful, they just introduce stupid laws for things, like straight bananas, too much cacao in chocolate, every site needs to ‘ask’ about cookies, and now this.

    • Justin

      I was going to write a comment, but then I saw your comment, which reflects exactly what I wanted to say. And, I have this to add. This European thing is really going too far. They are shooting the messenger. The irony is, the entity who requests removal might not even know something was published about them, if not for Google or any other Search-Engine. 😛

  • Gurdip

    The Information Age at risk?

  • Teo

    How come google let this happen massively…. ? Wouldnt this get to a point were it wold turn uncontrolable. 10k requests a day is in sverage is a massive act of CENSORSHIP!

  • Bill

    “Right to be Forgotten” is just another way of censorship. The only people or businesses who will invoke this “right” are those with something to hide. What’s the judge who ruled favorably on this, got to hide…?

  • http://www.iledafa.com Jaap Verduijn

    The European Union is mainly a disaster, and so is much of its legislation. It’s getting insaner and insaner.

  • Richard Sterling.

    i disagree with all if you because it seems none of you hsve been victims of a newspaper who campaigned against someone with a similar name and unjustly. What is wrong is not google but the unbridled power of the press. Often as in my case one is lumped in with others and labelled. I for one font even know tevither persons in a series if damaging articles which included my name. Now the newspaper would not apologize as they are just scoundrels after sales but google removed the two erroneous articles. If there are 50,000 complaints it seems to me that some must be, as mine, genuine. newspapers will always favor a large advertiser, like years ago when a book came out labelling the Versace brand and family Mafiosi. The book was proven right (the spying game) but the newspapers sided with the Versaces who spent $50 million a year on print adds. My articles are now down. thank you google. Now on to yahoo. Richard

  • http://www.cannabis-spain.com Paz LeBon

    i think people have the right to stop google having any access to thier own information, its called privacy surely, these are requests for removals not imposed ones

  • Steve

    I have noticed a considerable decline in my business as a consequence of all these Google updates. Last year I left work, able to do so much massage I was actually turning work away. Now, I often ( too often) find myself sitting twiddling my thumbs, worrying about how on earth I’m going to pay my rent and any other bills, because my phone is simply not ringing.
    To make my blood boil still further, I have competitors who are not masseurs but escorts who perport to know what they are doing, and these people are now not only listed on Googles first page of results, but they show up for irrelevant search terms ( ie, I’m in West London,Uk, they are in Central london, so the location is very different), and also, upon checking the source code of their websites it appears their content os of an exceptionally spammy nature.
    I wrote my own content from the heart, and built my own sites to save costs in WordPress. I have evidently been severely punished for this alone. I really think Google should be made accountable for the osses that small businesses like myself are having as a consequence of their so called ‘alogorithms’ not provideing proper, accurate or genuine results for end uses.
    I hae been called by several SEO firms, quoting me ridiculous prices ( £260 per month, for instance) which I am simply not turning over. If I pay them to do my seo, I’ll certainly end up homeless. It comes down to me constantly worrying about paying my rent, bills and food, and suffering great stress and high blood pressure, because I no longer have a predictable monthly income.
    I welcome anyone else’s thoughts on this one.
    Warm wishes,

  • Ales

    Western World goes by evolution to communism. As we were liberated just 20 years ago, I hate it. Ales – Czechland

  • Pizzaman7

    The European Union is a disaster. And we in the US want to emulate them ? When I do a search I want whatever is out there to be searchable. I know there are some bad news sources out there but if I see the same facts in multiple places I can have some confidence that these are good and valid facts. I have brains enough to do my own searches and find what I need.

    Now in the EU a politician can get some facts he doesn’t want seen to not show up. Corporations will have teams working on this to shut down any negative publicity. What is reality and what is not will be very blurry.

    In the end the consumer loses. Google is just a conduit to the results (although I might get angry on them constantly tweaking their algorithms to suit themselves). Censorship going amok ! This will be a nightmare for Google. Their costs go up and it will be passed to the advertisers which will be passed onto the consumers.

    This is the effect of bad legislation that was poorly thought out and planned. Unintended consequences. We have this issue in Washington too.