Google is now admitting that it, not the “right to be forgotten” rules introduced by a European court earlier this year, was responsible for removing links to press reports from its search results.
“It is clearly a difficult process. We are committed to doing it as responsibly as we possibly can,” the company’s head of communications in Europe, Robert Barron, said in an interview with the BBC. “We are learning as we go. I’m sure we will get better at it and we are very keen to listen to the feedback” it received after nixing links to British news outlets from its pages.
Barron also said that the removal of links to a BBC story about former Merrill Lynch CEO Stan O’Neal might not have been caused by a request from O’Neal, but instead from someone who commented on the article, which would only remove links to the story from search results for the commenter’s name. (Sorry, overzealous outrage fetishists turned on by earlier reports.)
Combine that admission with the fact that Google restored links to a series of Guardian stories about a disgraced referee and you’ll see that publishers were being screwed by Google, not by the European court, as I argued when I wrote about the frantic complaints about the rule’s effect on press freedoms yesterday:
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 mistakes also highlight a point that Pando’s Mark Ames made about the company’s power to control what we know (or at least what we think we know) through its search monopoly:
It seems to me that this—Google’s monopoly power to discriminate information, to decide what we know and what we won’t know, and how accessible or inaccessible that information is— is the real relevant story to the EU controversy over the right to be forgotten. This sort of power goes well beyond abstract principles about freedom of speech, and into the mundane, existential power over businesses, industries, jobs, and the political economy. Why should we allow one company so much power over our privacy, and over competing businesses, jobs, sectors? How is that in the interests of all the world’s non-shareholders of Google Inc?
It’s hard enough to trust Google with all that power when its search results seem infallible. The company has spent a lot of time and money in its efforts to create a better search engine than its competition. That has made it seem like an all-knowing entity controlling the world’s information — or at least the way people find that information — through its sheer might. Now we know that Google’s just a bunch of fallible people and algorithms. Do we really want to give those people so much power over the world’s information when they can’t even comply with a court ruling without making both the press and free speech advocates foam at the mouth?