google-spiders

Europeans have asked Google to remove more than 91,000 links from its search results, and the company has granted more than half of those requests, according to a Bloomberg report. Combined, the requests are said to apply to more than 328,000 Internet addresses. The majority of removal requests have come from people who are living in France and Germany.

Google is thought to have revealed these numbers to privacy watchdogs and the press to show that it’s taking the right to be forgotten, which it has criticized in the past for being too broad and difficult to implement, more seriously than it seems. As the Wall Street Journal reports:

Google’s disclosure could also soothe tensions with privacy regulators, who called Thursday’s meeting and have been critical of how the search company has implemented the ruling. Some have been demanding that Google end its notifications to websites that have been the subject of right to be forgotten requests, which have in some cases made it possible to identify the person making the request.

The Journal also notes that this latest disclosure could raise the ire of free speech advocates who view the ruling as a threat to the Internet’s promise of free expression. That’s been a key issue in the back-and-forth about the ruling. Some believe that removing links from Google is no different from directly censoring the press; others, like me, think that’s total bullshit:

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.

Google has been using the press to control the debate around the right to be forgotten ruling since it was first announced. Telling publications that links to their stories were removed was a sure-fire way to get the media to favor Google’s position on the ruling. Leaking details about the scope of the removal requests — which seems likely in this case, as both the Journal’s and Bloomberg’s reports are based on a single, anonymous source — could achieve a similar goal.

But that doesn’t mean that concerns about the company’s interpretation of the ruling should be dismissed simply because it has capitalized on the fear, uncertainty, and doubt that crops up whenever the ability to share information over the Internet is threatened. The specifics are worth discussing, and governments shouldn’t get a free pass, either. Let’s just not allow the release of a few statistics to get in the way of having an honest debate about the ruling, please.

[Image courtesy Wallpapers99]