The EU Courts made a ruling last year that search engine links about a person that are irrelevant or outdated can be removed by request.
In Australia, the same law is under consideration by the Australian Law Reform Commission’s recommendation for the “right to be deleted”, this would give people the power to compel organisations to delete or de-identify information held about them.
The Spanish data protection agency was the one that prompted the action in Europe over privacy concerns and the ruling is not limited to certain companies, or Facebook and Google, it is across the board. In response, Google has set up an expert panel to deal with a high volume of requests and says it will “assess each individual request and attempt to balance the privacy rights of the individual with the public’s right to know and distribute information”.
However, it appears the BBC doesn’t want to forget anyone and has taken the extraordinary step of publishing a list of BBC links removed from Google searches. It seems to be a bit contrary to the law, and actually flags and drives more attention to requested removal of links. BBC head of editorial David Jordan has defended his position stating the BBC’s agenda is to create meaningful debate and “a flavour of what kind of material is being delisted”.
Google has been instrumental in aiding and abetting the BBC, and flouting the meaning of the law, by providing organisations like the BBC with the links that have been de-listed.
On one hand of the argument, media organisations have the right to provide editorial comment and coverage, especially in the public’s interest.
For example, just a couple of random links I clicked on the BBC website included:
- “A Surrey detective has been charged with making threats to kill and assaulting a police officer”
- “A conman dubbed the “King of Marbella” and his three accomplices have been jailed over a £675,000 bank fraud”
It is very easy to make the case that these stories and people, as a result of their behaviour, are still relevant to the public, especially if they were to re-offend.
On the other hand, data and privacy is becoming so blurred and it is easy to have things floating on the internet or on social media that are complete fabrications.
For example, a study published in the Cancer Journal found an error rate of only 5.2% in 343 pages about Breast Cancer, but sites promoting alternative health are 15 times more likely to contain false information than conventional sites.
A study conducted by Microsoft last year found one in 50 web searches were health-related, and of those searches, one third ended up looking into serious illnesses even though the percentage of them having the condition was tiny. So it is critical there is some sort of filter without censorship.
That said, this law is being used as the basis for reputation management. But be aware the information doesn’t disappear, the link to it does.
That’s why the BBC publishing links that have been the subject of removal requests is unprecedented and convoluted, but could set a precedent for other media corporations globally. In the end, this makes a complete mockery of the courts and regulators.
Fi Bendall is the managing director of Bendalls Group, a team of highly trained digital specialists, i-media subject matter experts and developers.