In a recent article we reported that Google has been taken to task for removing links to some news articles subsequent to the European Court of Justice ruling in the now infamous “right to be forgotten” case. The latest ’chapter’ in the ongoing saga has Google in the headlines again. Google was widely castigated in previous articles for, what some consider, arbitrary takedowns of information links. Hearing this criticism, Google has responded by restoring some links it had earlier removed.
Google is no doubt in a precarious situation. It is trying to strike a balance between following the court’s directive and also maintaining its credibility in the internet community. But as a result of the premature removal of links, the search giant found itself the object of accusations that it was being capricious in its removal of some links. Google has defended its actions and has asked for patience and understanding in this complicated process. ’We are learning as we go,” Peter Barron, head of communications for Google in Europe, told the BBC.
Barron denied that Google was simply adhering to all requests without any forethought to vent its frustration with the ECJ ruling. ’Absolutely not,” he said. ’We are aiming to deal with it (the ruling) as responsibly as possible. The ECJ ruling was not something that we welcomed, that we wanted-but it is now the law in Europe and we are obliged to comply with that law.” He then reiterated the balancing act between transparency and the need to protect people’s identity.
Articles posted online by the Guardian newspaper were removed earlier this week but have now returned fully to the search engine. And BBC economics editor Robert Preston was apprised that a blog post he had written in 2007 would be removed from appearing when a specific search was initiated on Google. In not revealing the identity of the person making the request, Google would only confirm that it was not former Merrill Lynch CEO Stan O’Neal. In addition to Preston’s blog, seven other BBC articles were targeted for takedown.
The aftermath of the fiasco has had the effect of tarnishing Google’s once stellar reputation. Not helping matters is the perception by some about big data companies in general. According to a Facebook study by Danah Boyd , there is the notion that companies ’collect and use data about people” and are not neutral facilitators. Facebook ’designs its algorithms not just to market to you directly but to convince you to keep coming back over and over again. People have an abstract notion of how that operates, but they don’t really know, or even want to know,” Boyd writes. He concludes that people don’t want to know they’re being manipulated.
Google denies that its actions were tactical in nature and has confirmed that the BBC and Guardian articles have been re-indexed for all relevant search terms. That’s a good thing according to the ECJ speaking through The EC vice-president, Ryan Heath. EC authorities were less than thrilled with Google’s initial decision. Google hopes that the growing pains in dealing with the ECJ ruling will be less of an issue going forward. The bad publicity coupled with the enormous financial cost in complying with the court decision has put the search giant on the defensive just when it wants to be on the offensive asserting itself on the government surveillance front.