Google is in the news again and most likely not happy about it. But it seems to be par for the course these days in the aftermath of the European Court of Justice ’right to be forgotten” ruling. In response to the decision, Google has taken preliminary steps to comply- a daunting task given the more than 50,000 requests for takedown it is handling. Now it has begun to remove links per the requestor’s demands and the process is not going smoothly.
British news organizations, much to their chagrin, report that Google has removed links to some of their articles, including stories that involve reputedly disgraceful actions of powerful people. This, of course, was a fear expressed by experts in light of the ECJ ruling. Pundits wondered just how enlightened Google could be in their takedown response given the enormity of their task and the parameters of the court decree.
It now appears that Google has gone beyond the ECJ dictates of protecting reputations and some removals are bordering on news censorship. This reminds all that the high-minded goals of the court are left to fallible, human hands at Google.
Last week, the BBC economics editor Robert Preston said he’d been notified by Google that a seven- year old blog post he wrote on ex-Merrill Lynch CEO Stan O’Neal would no longer turn up in search results in Europe. Similarly, the Guardian has reported receiving automated notifications on six articles whose links would disappear from European searches. Some stories were about a scandalized soccer referee and an attorney facing fraud allegations.
The BBC’s Preston is sympathetic toward Google- chalking-up the takedowns as mistakes during the workout stages in the process. ’Maybe I’m a victim of teething problems. It is only a few days since the ruling has been implemented, and Google tells me that since then it has received a staggering 50,000 requests for articles to be removed from European searches.”
From Google’s standpoint, anything that suggests carelessness or lack of transparency in search results hints at a broader company problem and sows the seeds of doubt as to what Google stands for. It is hoped that the recent controversial removals are an exception and not the rule. All eyes will now be on the Mountain View giant to see how it handles future takedowns going forward. But Google is in the throes of a conundrum to be sure. It must staddle the line of good journalism-getting the whole story- and responsible reporting to that of safeguarding reputations.
From the outset, Google has thrived on the premise that its search results are like good journalism, i.e. clearly written, unbiased, compelling and in the public interest. But it is now more clear than ever that Google is not just a robotic, inhuman, perfect information source. Google is comprised of living, breathing people. And people, being fallible, are prone to making mistakes. The censorship of news articles by the threat of removing them may not be welcomed but it is a reminder of the humanity behind the decisions and the complexity of