back to article When PR backfires: Google 'forgets' BBC TV man's banker blog post

On Wednesday, Google emailed the BBC to say it had removed from its search results a blog post written by TV journalist Robert Peston about Merrill Lynch boss Stan O'Neal. Was this a PR stunt to highlight the "unfairness" of the EU ruling on the right to be forgotten? We don't know – but whether it was or not, it has backfired …

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  1. John Bailey

    Before this degenerates into the usual EU phobic nonsense, can we remember this little bit of the article..

    "The Court of Justice of the European Union said in its original ruling that courts will ultimately arbitrate on each request - and their decision must balance freedom of expression rights, as well as privacy rights."

    Which basically means it is NOT GOOGLE who gets to decide. And any deletions they make are 100% their call, not forced compliance with any rules.

    Google is basically pulling a work to rule ploy. Not complying with a law. So if you want to rant at someone, rant at Google.

    1. FredDerf
      FAIL

      What?

      So are you saying that every time someone wants to be un-linked that a court must decide if it is to be so?Talk about gridlocked court systems.

      1. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

        Re: What?

        Would you prefer that an intern at Google decides?

        Or perhaps the giant brain-in-a-jar that controls the internet?

      2. jnffarrell1

        Re: What?

        Yes! a national court must decide each and every case that is not taken down upon request of an unnamed 'unforgotten'. It turns out that that anyone wishing to pick an old wound can publicly embarrass whomever they are feuding with. Unintended consequences? Good thing the EU shifted the court costs to nations that need more Lawyer National Product.

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      "Ultimately arbitrate" does not mean they are doing it for every case, but that they are the ultimate authority in case Google refuses. I doubt very much the courts want to arbitrate on the thousands of daily requests that are sent to Google. They absolutely want Google to take the decision from their hands as much as possible.

      That said, an interesting point comes up: If Google refuses a request, then people should complain to the courts. This makes sure that Google removes enough. But what is the constraint that stops Google from removing too much? Do the authors like Peston have a right to go to the courts to ask for the link to be reinstated?

    3. David 164 Bronze badge

      Except no one going to question Google getting it wrong, sure the BBC reporter or the Guardian might question the first one or two times but they will get bored and move on to other things. An as long as the person filing the request get their way they are unlikely to question it either. An Google isn't required by the law to forward the request onto anyone either. They aren't even sure, an it isn't spelled out in the ruling whether Google can share any details of the complaint with the website.

      If Google is applying this to comments made on a website, I could see most sites removing their commenting system altogether. Which is a shame because the commenting and debating stories on sites is one of the best parts of the internet, especially when it comes to questioning one sided reporting that happens on some subjects.

    4. SoaG

      And how much would it cost Google for lawyers and administration to individually dispute each and every one of those 50,000 (and counting) requests?

      That's why they're letting the authors/publishers know. So they can choose to fight their individual cases if they want. There's no way even Google could afford to do so for all of them without going bankrupt.

      1. Andrew Orlowski (Written by Reg staff)

        "And how much would it cost Google for lawyers and administration to individually dispute each and every one of those 50,000 (and counting) requests?"

        Given that it's free, not very much. 40 per cent have come from Germany. The UK ICO deals with thousands already, and most are not appealed; the appeals procedure is free in the UK up to the highest level.

        A month ago Google fanbois argued it would be too expensive for Google to de-link on request, Google couldn't possibly do it. It would go broke trying. Now Google will go broke appealing a couple of dozen decisions a year. Funny, that.

      2. I. Aproveofitspendingonspecificprojects

        How does a giant remove a man's name from a search engine

        A huge concern like Google can't jst tell its servers to obliterate the man's name. It would block everyone with that name.

        It is a stupid law to try and enforce and not only enforce it once but to exclude any subsequent iterations. Such a thing wouldn't just tie up the courts it would tie up the internet.

        As soon as the last trace of the man has been got rid of some clown will mention it on Twitter and then.....

        Come to think of it, it could be a fun diversion for the rest of us on a rainy afternoon. Feeling bored?

        Why not tie up the search engines of every server in Europe?

        Can't wait.

        But then I aproveofitspendingonspecificprojects ...and that cap fits.

    5. Eric Anderson

      That makes no sense

      I'm pro-EU, but that doesn't make any sense. Are you arguing that it *is* up to Google, or that it's *not*? Because you seem to have made both claims.

      The EC's fact sheet ( http://ec.europa.eu/justice/data-protection/files/factsheets/factsheet_data_protection_en.pdf ) FAQ on the ruling suggests that the company to whom the request was made (Google) is responsible for making a determination about each request, and then acting on it. That kind of suggests that -- whether or not Google made the correct decision on this case -- they're doing exactly what they're supposed to. I'm not sure what you're even suggesting -- that they should *always* deny requests and pass the buck up to the court system? I don't know what the penalties are, but I'm pretty sure that would not be accepted as complying with the law.

      1. David 164 Bronze badge

        Re: That makes no sense

        The what the British ICO suggests Google did forward all complaints automatically on to the ICO.

    6. Curly4

      "The Court of Justice of the European Union said in its original ruling that courts will ultimately arbitrate on each request . . .

      Google is between a rock and a hard spot. If the EU wants to correct this then all request should be made to the court then when a ruling is made on that request it would be sent to Google to enact. But as it is now Google should eliminate ALL search results for any person that request a removal of a search result. Then the court can tell Google to restore the search results except the ones that should be eliminated.

      In other words Google should not be able to receive a request from an individual to drop search results. All request should come form the court. If Google now blocks search results now it should not be responsible nor to determine which search results to include and which to exclude nor liable for missing the mark.

    7. Trigonoceps occipitalis

      See: http://vanishedbygoogle.tumblr.com/

      Judging by the requirement to register (and give email address?) it may just an opportunistic information gathering ploy. There is nothing showing on the landing page (yet) that is remotely like a deleted link.

    8. tom dial Silver badge

      No. "Work to rule" would be to deny every request and force the requester to go through the courts. Given that many of these requests would involve competing legal and other interests, that would be correct.

  2. Ashton Black

    To what end?

    I cannot get my brain around the fact that this measure, as implimented by Google, is about much use to prevent "forgetting" about a person. Google isn't the ONLY game in town

    How about going after the person/people who are hosting the duff (allegedly) info? No? Because thats expensive and hard. Easier to make Google do it and do a 1/2 assed job and reap some PR.

    Did anyone tell the ECJ how the internet works before this ruling?

    1. David 164 Bronze badge

      Re: To what end?

      Yes their own legal advisors and internal experts, who wrote a legal opinion that the judges should throw out the complaint and refuse to grant the right to be forgotten. They were ignored by the judges.

      1. Andrew Orlowski (Written by Reg staff)

        Re: Re: To what end?

        Ah, so the law must conform to Google's interpretation of what is wise, and the Courts must accept Google as the ultimate technical authority of what is feasible.

        You wouldn't say Google is an interested party in all this, would you?

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: To what end?

          > Ah, so the law must conform to Google's interpretation of what is wise

          No. The law itself should conform to reality.

          Removing Googles search results does not get rid of the article - it is still there. It can still be found by searching Google for other keywords (try '"Merrill's mess" ghost christmas' and its about the second result). It can be found by going to the BBC site, using their search function and searching for Stan O'Neal. You can probably find it using Bing, Yahoo or some other search engine.

          If the blog post is inaccurate or irrelevant then force the site hosting the post to correct or remove it.

          1. Anonymous Coward
            Anonymous Coward

            Re: To what end?

            > If the blog post is inaccurate or irrelevant then force the site hosting the post to correct or remove it.

            Which is something that you have been granted a right to do, under the legal framework of Directive 95/46/EC.

            Have you bothered to do *any* research on the subject, or does talking out of your arse just makes you feel better?

            1. Anonymous Coward
              Anonymous Coward

              Re: To what end?

              > Have you bothered to do *any* research on the subject, or does talking out of your arse just makes you feel better?

              Please point out the inaccuracies in my comment.

              1. The First Dave

                Re: To what end?

                @Condiment:

                "Please point out the inaccuracies in my comment."

                The right to be forgotten is NOT about inaccurate information; it is about out-dated FACTS.

                Compare if you like with criminal records - expired convictions can be "forgotten", but do not ever get expunged from the legal record.

                1. Anonymous Coward
                  Anonymous Coward

                  Re: To what end?

                  > The right to be forgotten is NOT about inaccurate information; it is about out-dated FACTS.

                  Removing search results from google still leaves the original page with the original information findable by many different means.

                  FACT - a thing that is indisputably the case.

                  Facts are never out-dated since time never changes them.

        2. I. Aproveofitspendingonspecificprojects

          Google may be involved...

          But what is it guilty of?

          Have they fleeced the public or the company or customers of the company or what?

          Why should they be blamed for showing anyone where details of a criminal can be found?

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: To what end?

      I think this process is more supposed to ensure that whatever is in question is merely *not easily found*, rather than to be absolutely forgotten and deleted from all records. Since, for most/many people, "can't find it on google" is pretty much the same as "doesn't exist", editing the search results is adequate for most purposes.

    3. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

      Re: To what end?

      There is a record saying something about my unpaid library fine in a computer on a desk in a library in Ballimorie = effect zero.

      It's the fist thing that comes up on a search of my name in Google = more significant

      1. ratfox Silver badge

        Re: To what end?

        In the first place, this can only work if people are willing to forget. It is enough to have one enemy who writes every month about you, and you will never get rid of your past.

        The right to be forgotten only works for people nobody cares about… Which sounds about right.

    4. Eric Anderson

      Re: To what end?

      The measure isn't specific to Google (or even just search engines). In principle, the requester has every right to ask for the original data to be removed, and having third parties like Google get rid of links and caches is secondary.

      I believe what makes it weird is that the original copy (say, the article or blog post) may have different legal status than those duplicates and links. I've forgotten the exact terminology, but I believe it's pretty possible for an article to have special protection as journalism, for example, but a search engine's data about that article not to. I'm not sure how much of that is about the nature of the data, versus how it's being used, versus the nature of the company holding it.

      1. Andrew Orlowski (Written by Reg staff)

        Re: Re: To what end?

        "I believe what makes it weird is that the original copy (say, the article or blog post) may have different legal status than those duplicates and links. "

        Yes, Google could apply for protection as a publisher. But it has chosen not to do so.

  3. Eponymous Cowherd
    Facepalm

    Dear Barbara.....

    It would be interesting to see how many hits that 2007 article is getting now, courtesy of the Streisand effect.

    Wonder if this was Peston's intention when he wrote that article?

    It was an old backwater blog page.Its now linked from a front page news article. I imagine its getting more hits per hour, now, than it's got in the whole of the last year.

    1. Steve Evans

      Re: Dear Barbara.....

      I believe that was Google's intention when they emailed Preston!

    2. Number6

      Re: Dear Barbara.....

      The Grauniad (is it still called that?) is going to town on a similar theme with Dougie McDonald asking for three links to articles about him to be removed. In the UK if you do the appropriate search the articles have long gone but there's a whole slew of others in their place about his attempt to get the links removed.

  4. Rottenham

    "Do No Harm" has passed. Now it's "The Google Way or the Highway." If anybody could figure out how to abuse this law, it's Google. They've become too big for their britches.

    1. hplasm Silver badge
      Facepalm

      "Do No Harm"

      Google are doctors now?

      Derp.

  5. JulianB
    FAIL

    and so, ad infinitum

    Google for Stan O'Neal. The second hit, after Wikipedia, is Peston's article on how Google won't link to the original article, with a link to the original article. Presumably he'll now get another letter saying that you can't Google this one either, and can publish a new article reporting the fact...

    So O'Neal now still looks bad, to some degree, as the result of the first article, and worse because he can be seen to have tried to hide it.

    1. Andrew Orlowski (Written by Reg staff)

      Re: and so, ad infinitum

      "He" (Stan O'Neal) didn't actually make the complaint.

      So the complaint should have been rejected at the first hurdle. Only the individual or someone with delegated authority can complain, not some random third party.

      1. VinceH Silver badge

        Re: and so, ad infinitum

        > "He" (Stan O'Neal) didn't actually make the complaint.

        So the complaint should have been rejected at the first hurdle. Only the individual or someone with delegated authority can complain, not some random third party.

        Note Preston's comment at the end:

        "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. "

        The people who commented on the post have this same 'right to be embarrassed about something they once wrote on the internet forgotten' as the subject of the blog post itself - so if one of them, who posted under their own name, manages to get Google to forget their embarrassing comment, then searches for that person's name won't include that particular piece that Preston has written - and it won't (just as it appears not to have done) affect searches for O'Neal.

        And if that's what's happened, it is not a random third party; it's Joe Bloggs asking for this comment by (or mentioning) Joe Bloggs to be removed.

        Just to confirm, searching for Stan O'Neal currently brings up quite a lot of articles about this nonsense, but adding +site:bbc.co.uk shows the 'removed' article half way down the first page.

        And the weather forecast for that teacup is: Stormy.

        1. Andrew Orlowski (Written by Reg staff)

          Re: Re: and so, ad infinitum

          So Google says it's removed a link, inferring Stan O'Neal complained. Emails Peston expecting him to cry "Censorship!", "The internet is broken!" etc.

          But Stan O'Neal hasn't complained and the link hasn't been removed. Peston doesn't perform the little jig that Google expected. Funnily enough, neither does James Ball.

          The Comments is a red herring. Either way, Google was entitled to reject the complaint, and it was up to Joe Bloggs to then complain take it up with the Information Commissioner.

          A responsible search engine would have been expected to do that - if it takes freedom of expression seriously.

          1. Anonymous Coward
            Anonymous Coward

            Re: and so, ad infinitum

            It's easier for Google to not show some results, than to spend a great length of time (and cost) on trying to figure out which side of the privacy/public balance some of the grey cases lie?

            It's not like they actually have to forget the data. That can still use it to drive their revenue in other jurisdictions

          2. ratfox Silver badge

            Damned if they do…

            I really would like to point out that if Google bounced every request to the ICO, they would automatically get attacked for bogging down the system and trying yet again to worm their way out of obeying the ECJ's ruling. I'm sure the last thing Google wants is to piss off the European regulators some more.

          3. David 164 Bronze badge

            Re: and so, ad infinitum

            Google is entitle to reject it, it doesn't have to and indeed why should a company spend it own money rejecting bogus requests and having to defend itself in court, when it cheaper, easier to just grant the request and move on to the next request.

            1. Andrew Orlowski (Written by Reg staff)

              Re: Re: and so, ad infinitum

              Perhaps, but that contradicts what Google itself argued - that it would be too expensive to de-link on demand. Google would grind to a halt if it de-linked. The web would break.

              Now it's decided it's politically useful to "break the web" and de-link on demand, intentionally, and hope the blowback doesn't blow its way.

              Before writing that, you did know appealing an ICO decision is free, didn't you?

              1. David 164 Bronze badge

                Re: and so, ad infinitum

                It not free, it my tax money being spent and the ICO would have to expand to deal with this if Google just sent every request to the ICO.

                An I rather the money be spent of the NHS and plug some of that 4 billion pound deficit than the ICO managing a EU judges rulings.

                1. Anonymous Coward
                  Anonymous Coward

                  Re: and so, ad infinitum

                  > An I rather the money be spent of the NHS [sic]

                  Methinks you need to gain some familiarity on how the tax system (or indeed, general accounting) works.

                  1. David 164 Bronze badge

                    Re: and so, ad infinitum

                    May be you should explain it why money that would need to be spent on the ICO to govern this silly EU law couldn't be spent elsewhere within the Government, given that the ICO and NHS come general taxation and not from any special taxes set up to specifically to pay for them.

              2. Vic

                Re: and so, ad infinitum

                > you did know appealing an ICO decision is free, didn't you?

                It isn't.

                There may be no fee to the ICO involved, but that doesn't mean there are no costs.

                Vic.

          4. VinceH Silver badge

            Re: and so, ad infinitum

            I don't disagree with any of that, per se, but what you appear to be suggesting/criticising in the previous comment is that Joe Bloggs asked for an article about Stan O'Neal to be de-indexed, and Google complied, notifying Preston (well, the Beeb) of this because it's his article.

            I'm merely pointing out that isn't, on the face of it, what happened - which is more likely that Joe Bloggs asked for a web page in which Joe Bloggs is mentioned to be de-indexed.

            Whatever the real story, it does highlight a massive flaw (another one) in this right to be forgotten silliness.

          5. Number6

            Re: and so, ad infinitum

            It's a new game - now we have to guess who asked, based on searching for the people in the comments section and seeing if the link appears or not.

        2. David 164 Bronze badge

          Re: and so, ad infinitum

          It interesting that as Preston bought up the article again, does that count the article has being relevant again and so is now allowed to be in Google search index again?

          Another legal point to be argue in court, when does a no longer relevant article become relevant again.

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