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back to article Europe's shock Google privacy ruling: The end of history? Don't be daft

Anyone familiar with The Day Today's "IT'S WAR" episode will know how much the media love to create an imaginary threat. Channel 4 had its own "It's War" moment yesterday, asking whether the European Court of Justice (ECJ) had signalled the "end of history" – by supposedly giving anyone the "right to erase their past". The line …

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While this does not seem the end of history, it is strange to me that Google would not be allowed to display, or more actually reproduce, an information which is displayed freely and legally on a Spanish web site (and thanks to the Streisand effect, all over the web by now).

To start splitting hair, how about a web site which would start gathering exclusively the type of information that Google is not allowed to show? Would that be legal, for instance, for a news organization to do this? I understand Google was refused a particular protection available to newspapers. And would Google be allowed to link to such a site?

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Google is allowed to display anything it wants, all this has done is given individuals the right to request that it be taken down and that request will (usually) be decided in a court who will balance the right of the individual against other rights and entitlements of society in general. It will make no difference to search results except where a specific case has been heard in court or through an ICO panel and decided upon.

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"and that request will (usually) be decided in a court who will balance the right of the individual against other rights"

I'm hoping you do understand that this kind of selective "cherry picking" based not on truth/fact but on some arbitrary quantity by a select body is PRECISELY the definition of censorship...

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Yes, I found it interesting that it is not the Spanish web site that contained the original data that was being asked to delete something, but Google, which just indexed it. Of course, without Google, it would be much more difficult to find the original data if Google removed it's index.

I suppose that the data could have been removed from the Spanish web site, and Google was slow to update it's index and also cached the original data, but I suspect that this wasn't the case.

I wonder if we will see similar things from the Wayback machine, although I believe that they already have a way of asking for specific data to be removed.

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A practical example

On a related note Google has already acted.

The wife of the former president of Germany, Bettina Wulff, has been alleged to have worked as a prostitute in the past. As far as I know the allegations have never been proven correct and in fact have been proven in correct. However, the interest in the subject was so great that Google promoted some of the terms to "search as you type". It was argued that this continued to spread unproven and possibly defaming allegations without qualification. Just imagine something similar with your own name and something like "child sex offender".

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Google is allowed to display anything it wants

Nope, they are numerous cases where that is already not the case. We all know about China.

I could be wrong on this but I think an example are pro-Nazi listings in France which are banned for all media.

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"...PRECISELY the definition of censorship"

Not in my dictionary. As pointed out, courts will consider other rights, such as the right to make a true statement. "It's true" is an absolute defence in libel cases and always has been, so I'd expect courts to give it quite a lot of weight in cases involving other aspects of free speech. However, against that, there is an equally long-standing principle that convictions are "spent" some years after the event and you are entitled to live the rest of your life without being dogged by them. I'd expect weight to be given to that, too.

So if it is true, I'd expect Google (and others) to be pretty free to repeat it and index it for a few years whether or not it shows you in a good light, and be less free to do so over longer periods. Do you have evidence that this isn't how courts are currently operating?

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(Written by Reg staff) Silver badge

Re: Ken Hagan

> "It's true" is an absolute defence in libel cases

Not always, I'm afraid: see the UK's Rehabilitation of Offenders Act. Republishing minor convictions from years ago dismantles your defence unless other privilege kicks in, or you're confident there's a public interest.

C.

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Re: Ken Hagan

a very good thing in my opinion, people change, and they have the right to learn from their mistakes...

Although with the prisons so full, I am sure they are just learning better ways to commit crimes...

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Who is missing the point?

It is not those bemoaning the decision who fail to understand its import. It is the Court and Mr. Orlowski who do so. To begin with, Google is the wrong party for a complainant to pursue. Google is (or at least should be) merely objectively indexing what others are making publicly available. Blaming Google for someone's publishing something online is like blaming the weather on the radio announcer. Those expressing concern know full well that it is the granting to courts of the power to even decide such cases through some Solomonic balancing of interests that is profoundly wrong. Allowing the courts to prevent the publishing of true history would be bad enough; allowing them to treat Google as though it were the publisher is ludicrous.

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This isn't about Google ratfox, this is about a general law that Google decided to ignore. Anyone displaying such information without the right to do so or if the information falls into the irrelevant, no longer relevant etc. (which is the case here), they must take it down.

In the case of the paper, it was public record from the 90s and they are a newspaper, so they don't have to take it down, even though the information is "no longer relevant". Registered press has some leniency and as long as it wasn't liabalous, they can leave it up - this is part of the problem, the papers used to be a record of the day, and unless you went to their archives or searched through microfiche at a library, you wouldn't find the information; something that is too much bother for most people. With the advent of the internet and searching this information that should be "legally forgotten" is always just a couple of keystrokes away.

I would also think, that the case in question that it would be clear on the newspaper site that it is historical, because you would have to search their online archive to find it. The Google result probably (I haven't checked) doesn't differentiate it that much from current results - especially if the archive was first put online a few years ago; it probably wouldn't even display the correct date, making it seem on the search list that the information might still be relevant. If a researcher didn't go further than making a few clip notes on the Google page, they would be gathering "no longer relevant" information as relevant.

Could a news agency publish the information that Google had to remove? Probably not, if it was no longer relevant or irrelevant to the "public good". They would have to have good grounds to do so, something like "Google wasn't allowed to display results for ratfox and armed robbery, because he was found not guilty in 1997," probably wouldn't be sufficient.

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@Ken exactly. The point is, if the information is "no longer relevant" should it still be appearing in search results or on non-news websites? Then the question is, whether this no longer relevant information is still in the public interest.

It sounds, in this case, like the original newspaper article is still in the public interest, because it was public record, but putting it in search results for a "current" search would be illegal under Spanish DPA, so it has to be removed. IF somebody really wants to do the donkey work, they can still go to the paper and search it for the article.

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Facepalm

That's the difference between censorship and privacy

Asking the Spanish website to delete the info would be censorship. Asking Google to remove the link is not necessarily.

In fact, you might create a website about all sorts of people and post a link - say a direkt permanent link - to the Gonzalez story: No problem But it is a problem for Mr Gonzalez if this matter is the first that comes up whenever anyone searches his name.

The case is just a reminder that there's a difference between raw information and search results.

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No it won't usually be decided in courts, may be the first few hundreds or even first few thousands but our court system could never cope with tens of thousands or even millions of requests that may come from this ruling, certainly not the ICO which has only a handful of staff. Plus these rulings will need to be review on regular bases as what is irrelevant one week could become relevant the follow week or the following month or even following year.

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Re: Who is missing the point?

Mostly agree but there is a problem. We know Google are already fiddling with their search results to hide certain results which they find problematic. Mostly we've tended to agree with Google that the fiddling is both proper and necessary. But the earlier poster did make a decent case with the wife of the German poll. That is a case in which I think Google should consider tweaking their results.

The problems I have with the decision are:

1) For the most part if focuses on the wrong party. If there is defamatory information on the internet, the proper course of action is to seek removal of the defamatory information. Once the information has been removed, it will be removed from Google. If the information is hosted outside the jurisdiction of the courts to which the plaintiff has access, tough shit. Or at least that's been the usual retort from freetards and hacktivists when one country objects to information being made accessible outside their jurisdiction in the past.

2) As noted by an El Reg notable above, truth is no longer an absolute defense.

3) It is not clear how many of these tweaks Google will be required to implement or how it will affect the efficiency and/or effectiveness of their search engine.

Lastly I'll make the following note. Here in the US, once you've been convicted of a felony, if an employer asks about it on a work application you are required to report it. Failure to report it, even if 40 years ago is grounds for firing. Employers are required to not hold the conviction against you unless it directly impacts the position for which you are applying. Companies to hire convicted felons who have served their sentences. I worked with one such fellow who has reformed. I'd hire him for any job for which he is qualified. I'd particularly hire him as a consultant for physical security on buildings. Having done the auto theft and break-in thing previously in life, he spots things most people miss and will proudly point out how stupid they are.

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Re: Ken Hagan

Publishing details of a spent conviction would surely be contempt of court, though; even if the material were deemed not to be libellous because it were true?

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Re: request will (usually) be decided in a court

Wong:

Europeans can submit take-down requests directly to Internet companies rather than to local authorities or publishers under the ruling. If a search engine elects not to remove the link, a person can seek redress from the courts.

http://news.yahoo.com/google-gets-down-requests-european-court-ruling-source-183010113--sector.html

So the court just gave every European citizen the same rights as the RIAA. That's going to turn out well. NOT.

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Move the goalposts

IIRC this all kicked off because some spanish guy Googled his own name (and we all know: nothing good ever comes from doing that) and discovered that it listed a financial embarrassment from years gone by.

Now, whatever the ins and outs of that particular situation, surely the easier approach (easier than grinding your way through the courts) is to simply change your name?

So, if Mr Derek Stinky was to change his name to, say, Mr. Albert Stinky then Google would have no link between the two names - so far as they are concerned it's only data and there is no attribute (unless Mt Stinky was to explicitly add one) to link the two. Even then it would have to be an exceptionally clever little search engine to twig the fact - and since it's main function is to push advertisements, there's no reason to make it so smart. [ Now GCHQ: there's a search system to be reckoned with ].

So, being a lazy git and always taking the path of least resistance, I would always go for the simplest solution to a problem of this size: and simply become someone else. Pete 3 has a nice ring to it.

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Intestine removal: the lazy cure for appendicitus?

Changing your name means updating it formally with many important organizations in your life (the state, banks, employers, insurers, etc) It also means breaking social links with out-of-touch friends (like trying to find old schoolmates who now have married names) And you'd cheerfully do all this to evade one bad link? (and hope that nobody helpfully provides the "HTTP 301" for you, as they often do for married names "Mary Smith (nee Bloggs)", since Google is quite capable of supporting such common patterns too.

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Re: Move the goalposts

OK I'll bite...

I have a name given to me at birth - as we all have.

I do something stupid but not terribly damaging to my life, run up some bad debts 10 years ago - like this guy.

I get it sorted out and I'm back on track within a year or two - just like this guy

I go for a job and they do a few simple searches and my private financial history shows up and shows I was young and stupid. Sorry no job for you.

Your solution is for me to completely change my identity and start a new life. OK assume this is possible and I actually do it.

I go for a job and they do a few simple searches and what's this, oops I have absolutely no life history prior to 2014? In this day and age that's a wee bit dodgy isn't it? Suddenly appear out of nowhere? Sorry no job for you!

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Re: Move the goalposts

I go for a job and they do a few simple searches and my private financial history shows up and shows I was young and stupid. Sorry no job for you.

Why would an employer care? I mean, I'll grant you that a few/some/many/most/all companies do this but why? Do they think bad credit is contagious? I'd love to hear the HR side of this.

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Re: Move the goalposts

Except that if I were to find out that you had changed your name, I might be very tempted to Google your previous name to find out what you might be attempting to hide ...

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Re: Move the goalposts

"I go for a job and they do a few simple searches and what's this, oops I have absolutely no life history prior to 2014? In this day and age that's a wee bit dodgy isn't it? Suddenly appear out of nowhere? Sorry no job for you!"

Not that strange really, I myself have a very minimal google profile, about 3 valid entries that all stem from the same source (which is public data anyway) so not strange...

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Re: Move the goalposts

> Your solution is for me to completely change my identity and start a new life. OK assume this is possible and I actually do it.

Well, thousands of women manage to do this [change their names] every year, with very little hassle, when they marry and adopt their husband's last name. The biggest problem they have seems to be "learning" a new signature. There certainly isn't anything as dramatic as "start a new life" - though I guess you could go for some plastic surgery as well, if you wanted to.

Sure, there are some hassles - like having to apply for a new passport and notifying your bank of a name-change. But you have to ask: which is more onerous? a few small administrative alterations, or dragging Google through the courts as the instigator of this whole story did, for many years, just to get one link changed.

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Re: Move the goalposts

"I have a name given to me at birth - as we all have."

Historically (maybe even now) this wasn't actually mandatory in England. There are still people who have no legal name, just a series of aliases.

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Re: Move the goalposts

well Pete... For starters, in most european countries changing your name is only possible under some very specific circumstances, and needs approval at the highest level. Which means quite a lot of work, and usually a process lasting at least a year or two involving courts and proof of duress etc...

Also, while a partner in a marriage contract may be able to adopt a spouses' name, this is not reflected at the census level, where the original family name is retained. Besides.. a marriage is easily researched and part of the public(!) records. Change of name through marriage will not help you in any way if you want to dodge things.

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Re: a few simple searches ... shows I was young and stupid. Sorry no job for you.

It seems to me the correct response to that is to sue the employer, not Google. And when the headlines hit about the company being sued for employment discrimination, not only it, but every other employer out there gets the message that they aren't to abuse the searches.

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Re: Why would an employer care?

Some do. It's not sensible, but there it is. Personally, if I see someone who made a hash of his finances early in life but took responsibility for it and straightened himself out, I'd see that person as more desirable rather than less. It shows initiative, sense, and commitment. I know. I made a hash of my personal finances early in life when I was young and irresponsible. I'm still working to clean it up 30 years later, but it's been under control for the last 25.

There's another thing you should consider if applying for a job at a company that would hold something old against you: would you really want to work there?

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Re: Why would an employer care?

I changed my surname back in 2000, and after the initial hassle of passports and banks it's all been fine and dandy.

Even my new name doesn't come up in Google, for anything, yet I still manage to find jobs.

Although at one interview I was asked why they couldn't find me on Facebook and thought that was suspicious, until I made the guy realise that it would be a stupid thing to do by pointing out that since I usually have access to secure systems for governments and banks etc. the last thing I should be doing is telling everyone that I've just finished building the new 3rd party VPN platform for a bank (via LinkdIn) and that I'm going on holiday (via Facebook) (presumably leaving the company laptop with all the juicy details on it at home).

So no, not having a profile on the internet isn't suspicious at all, unless you only find people who are attention whores non-suspicious.

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Actually I'm quite impressed

I didn't expect this size of balls from the ECJ. I agree, it's NOT about journalism, regardless what JW trying to sell you, that's just ridiculous. I have kids and unlike in our times today everything ends up online within seconds... while I do believe good parenting makes the most difference once they grow up they will be on their own, they will fall on their on and learn from those failures. I want them to have this option, free from constant fear of ruining their future chances - now I only have to figure out how could we get something similar done over here, the other side of the Atlantic...

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Re: Actually I'm quite impressed

People all have a past, a present and a future. You can't change what you did, but you can change what you're doing and will do. Your kids chances won't be ruined by what they did, but by what they kept on doing, are still doing and will do.

"Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it." It's the fact that you do have a past that drives you to change in bad cases. If you can sweep it under the rug, you have no drive for improvement at all. It also drives you to have an interest in keeping one you're proud of, lest it comes back to bite you in the proverbial.

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Re: Actually I'm quite impressed

If I google my real name the only result I can find that is me is from Linkedin.

I put this down to the fact I refuse to waste my life on any social media sites.

So there you go, simple really.

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Re: Actually I'm quite impressed

Indeed. Apparently, it is becoming not unusual in America for employers to demand access to potential employees online accounts. Asserting the right to privacy certainly puts an end to anything like that in Europe.

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Re: Actually I'm quite impressed

I'm on every social network that'll have me for this exact reason. There is a minor financial embarrassment in my past, I ain't exactly proud of it, but I can't deny it, it was nothing illegal, it happened, it's happened to millions of others. But that doesn't mean I want it top of the list when a potential employer or customer is doing their due nosiness. Drowning it with results from inskypabookwitter works pretty well. Hell, I think I still have a myspace account.

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Re: Actually I'm quite impressed

Not so simple. If you declared yourself bankrupt 20 years ago and that turned up in Google's search today it would have a negative impact, even though the episode is finished and has no current legal bearing on your financial status.

Even for jobs where the employer has to get a report from the police, the police aren't allowed to give information about some offences that have since passed their sell-by date or have been sealed. If the police and other authorities aren't allowed to give somebody that information, why should websites or Google be excused?

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Re: If I google my real name

Apparently I'm protected by a doctor, a lawyer, and a funeral home. In the past I've been protected by a musician as well. Interestingly I do pop up quickly under images, but good luck with that.

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If Mr Snow is suggesting that this is the "end of history" then all I can say is "You know nothing, Jon Snow"

Back OT:

I find it interesting that Bing and other search engines have avoided all mention in news outlets. Apparently, only Google has this sort of data that can be searched through and all others are totally innocent.

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Good point. If you read the ECJ ruling it's a search engine's social impact and ubiquity that brings it into the firing line. If Bing had a 90 per cent share, it would be Bing, not Google.

It's not so much that the others "are innocent", it's just that they don't have the reputational impact.

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All well and good to say that any search engine operator falls under this ruling but how will that be applied over multiple search engines?

Mr. Gonzalez has won this ruling for Google to remove the links to him, will he now have to go through another multiple of cases to force Bing, Yahoo, etc take down links to an identical article? I can't see Microsoft saying "well, Google had a ruling against them so we'll also drop this from Bing without being told". The precedent set by that would cause their lawyers nightmares for future cases.

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Anonymous Coward

Which means that Google is too good are organizing the world's information and making it universally accessible?

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I Googled Jon Snow

He was killed in Season 3

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"Mr. Gonzalez has won this ruling for Google to remove the links to him"

Isn't the ruling merely saying that he can take them back to a lower court or agency (Spanish Data Protection Agency in this case) to re-assess?

I think his claim against the paper hosting the story being linked to had already been rejected, as may still happen with his against Google.

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Re: I Googled Jon Snow

Why did you put an irrelevant spoiler in the middle of article which had nothing to do with GOT. Was this just an attempt to annoy people and make them dislike you?

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"will he now have to go through another multiple of cases to force Bing, Yahoo, etc take down links to an identical article?"

Will make no difference now as due to the Streisand Effect any search for his name will now have hundreds of news links talking about this ruling, each one repeating the original reason of his 'embarrassment'. Any attempts to suppress those would probably have a new raft of news stories discussing the suppression of the suppression of the original story ... and ad infinitum.

If he truly wanted to hide his details then effecting a ruling like this was not a good way to do it (I think a super injunction would be needed) so I guess he just wanted to prove a point.

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Re: I Googled Jon Snow

You do know my 'spoiler' wasn't true, don't you? (The clue being that he is still around in season 4) And that newscaster Jon Snow was mentioned in the article? If I wanted to make people dislike me, I'd indignantly post petulant, wrong, shouty answers to harmlessly trivial snark. Like THIS!

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I disagree..

The website that published the mans details is the source of the issue not Google. Google's system indexes ALL websites for search purposes. If they selectively ignore certain search results, the EU would charge them for THAT too.

All Google did was index what others were responsible for doing first. Reputational impact belongs eleswhere. Yes Google is ubiquitous, thats it's raison d'etre, it indexes EVERYONE, it did not create content of a deleterious nature.

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Andrew, thank you

for being a sane voice in a howling storm.

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Unhappy

I KNEW it, Google really is the Anti-christ

I know ranting about anti-Google rants won't do a thing in a Reg-iverse where Google invented war and the Black Death so I'll just pre-position my "I told you so" now for when, in a few years we discover all the things that people have had expunged from view (because you know there's no defensible line around Google that's going to prevent this ruling from being applied to any web search or scraping service). Business opportunity: be one in the legion of companies that will soon spring up to work what ever system gets set up to implement this ruling, all making money from rich people, politicians, and companies who will pay to bury their past, airbrush out any trouble. The negative press about our product? How dare you link to that! The suit my ex filed over my domestic violence? Out with that! Photo of corporate boss vacationing with politician? Piffle! The only people who will have to live with their past will be the rest of us who can't afford these services. I know I won't convince you now, but mark my words..., we will rue this decision and the google-noids will ask me to pass the gravy so they can choke down their big, feathery dish of crow.

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Shoot the messenger

The AEPD (Spanish ICO) had rejected Mr González complaint against La Vanguardia to remove, alter or exclude from search the original publication. The pages were allowed to stand.

The ECJ judgement is about removing search results but does nothing about their sources.

http://curia.europa.eu/jcms/upload/docs/application/pdf/2014-05/cp140070en.pdf has the official summary of the judgement.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Shoot the messenger

They are only shooting the messenger because Google's an American entity donch'a know. See, if you have a better search engine, don't give it away in Europe because all they know there is American bashing.

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