China censorship

As Google protests a European court’s decision that people have the right to be forgotten, the company is now using the fear of censorship to argue that, on the contrary, it has the right to remember everything. All it had to do was tell the Guardian and the BBC that their stories were removed from search results after their subjects exercised their newest right to request the links’ removal.

So far it seems that stories about two people — one a disgraced referee and the other a former Merrill Lynch chief executive named Stan O’Neal — have been removed from Google’s search results. The removal of stories mentioning O’Neal has been especially controversial. Google, the techno-liberal’s icon of choice, has removed a story about a former executive after a government mandate, thus infringing on the press and its ability to reveal corporate corruption? That’s an outrage fetishist’s wet dream.

It’s also bullshit. The ruling refers specifically to Web pages with “inadequate, irrelevant, or no longer relevant” information. The stories about O’Neal are certainly relevant, which leaves two explanations for their removal: either the BBC’s information was inadequate, or the links were mistakenly removed from Google’s search results and should be immediately restored. Neither possibility should make people think that the court’s ruling threatens the freedom of the press.

The Guardian’s head of search engine optimization, Chris Moran, seems to understand this:

The notices so many of us received yesterday and the blanket notice that all name-based searches in the EU are now subject to censorship make it look more like a mischievous attempt to point up the impossibility of policing content on the internet within physical territories, enraging publishers and encouraging them to write about it.

The digital ecosystem is a complicated one. And it goes without saying that privacy and freedom of expression are incredibly important issues. But that’s what makes it all the more essential that when discussing this issue, journalists in particular are clear about the implications and precise with their language, even if that makes the story less ‘amazing’.

Moran is right in thinking that stories about Google’s struggle to support a new mandate, or its efforts to use the press in its fight against the court’s ruling, aren’t as “amazing” as stories about the government censoring the press. As I wrote above, this had all the makings of an outrage fetishist’s wet dream, and nothing drives traffic like the Internet’s outrage machine. But the truth is, this story just isn’t as controversial as others are trying to make it seem.