Media backlash on 'Right To Be Forgotten'

ROSE POWELL
Last updated 12:04 04/07/2014

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A disgraced football coach and an investment banker involved in the global financial crisis are two of the early successful applicants to evoke the digital world's newly minted "right to be forgotten".  

Three major international news groups have received "notice of removal" emails from Google earlier this week explaining several of their articles would no longer be findable via the search engine.

The action stems from a European Court of Justice ruling in May. It means European citizens can apply to have information on them deleted from search engines on grounds such as "inadequate, irrelevant or no longer relevant, or excessive in relation to the purposes for which they were processed”. The links will only be removed from European Google searches.

The three affected new organisations so far, the BBC, The Guardian and The Daily Mail are all based in the United Kingdom. They do not have the right to appeal the decisions, nor have they received explanations as to which articles were blocked.

The Guardian has already had three articles about disgraced Scottish Premier League referee Dougie McDonald blocked from European searches.

"The strange aspect of the ruling is all the content is still there: if you click the links in this article, you can read all the 'disappeared' stories on this site. No one has suggested the stories weren't true, fair or accurate. But still they are made hard for anyone to find," wrote reporter James Ball.

A Guardian 2011 article on French office workers making art out of Post-it notes and another about a solicitor involved in a fraud trial have also been removed. A page with a week's worth of articles published by media columnist Roy Greenslade has also been scrubbed.

BBC economics editor Robert Peston has hit out at the tech giant about the opacity and confusion of the process after being notified it would no longer link to this post from 2007.

The post details how Stan O'Neal was forced out of investment bank Merrill Lynch after it became undone during the GFC due to reckless investments.

As O'Neal is the only person mentioned directly in the post, Peston assumed the banker had lodged a successful "right to be forgotten" request. Peston argued articles such as this are critical to establishing track record and making informed decisions.

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"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," he wrote.

Peston added an update to his blog post shortly after publishing, highlighting his confusing process. He claimed the blog was still findable when searching "Stan O'Neal" on European Google pages.

"The implication is that oblivion was requested not by anyone who appears in the blog itself (O'Neal is the only person I mention in my column) but by someone named in the comments written by readers underneath the blog. Google won't tell me, one way or another. It is all a bit odd."

Google has also notified The Daily Mail their articles on Stan O'Neal and Dougie McDonald will no longer be findable. It's perhaps by publishing new stories and linking to the older ones as the publications have done this week, that they can ensure the original stories can still be found.

In an article describing the decision as part of a "censorship regime", MailOnline publisher Martin Clarke blasted the decision.

"It is the equivalent of going into libraries and burning books you don't like. MailOnline intends to regularly publish lists of articles deleted from Google's European search results so people can keep track of what has been deleted," Clarke wrote, adding there was no suggestion any of the articles were inaccurate.

Each request to be forgotten will be processed manually. Google has not said how long requests may take to resolve.

More than 12,000 people applied to Google on the first day the request form for the service went live.

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