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BBC to Preserve Memory of Its 'Forgotten' Articles

By Katherine Noyes TechNewsWorld ECT News Network
Oct 17, 2014 3:45 PM PT

The BBC will publish and continually update a list of its published articles that were removed from Google searches under Europe's "right to be forgotten" rule.

BBC to Preserve Memory of Its 'Forgotten' Articles

David Jordan, director of editorial policy and standards for the BBC, announced the move earlier this week at a public meeting hosted by Google. The decision is a reaction to the European Commission's ruling in May -- affecting all 28 EU member states -- that search engines must remove links to someone's personal information upon request when the links are "inadequate, irrelevant or no longer relevant."

The websites in question receive notifications from Google when such removals are made. To date, the BBC has received more than 45 such notifications, leading it to conclude that some links were wrongly hidden under the rule, Jordan reportedly said.

Questionable Rationale

One such link, for example, was to a blog post by BBC Economics Editor Robert Peston; the request was believed to have been made by someone who had commented on the article.

In another case, news of a trial involving members of the Real IRA -- two of whom subsequently were convicted -- was removed.

"This report could not be traced when looking for any of the defendants' names," Jordan noted. "It seems to us to be difficult to justify this in the public's interest."

A better appeal process is needed for disputed requests, he said.

One possibility, for instance, could be to require that the identity of the person making the request be shared with the publication on condition of confidentiality.

The next meeting on the subject will take place in early November in Brussels.

Individual Rights vs. Public Interest

Google gets roughly 1,000 requests a day to take down links to news stories under the "Right to be Forgotten" rule, and it approves about 41.5 percent of them, according to a recent transparency report.

As of Friday, Google had received 151,100 removal requests from 510,154 URLs since May 29, it said.

"In assessing each request, Google must consider the rights of the individual as well as public interest in the content," the company noted.

In one example, a woman requested that Google remove a decades-old article about her husband's murder, which included her name. That page no longer appears in search results for her name, it said.

Facebook, YouTube and Google Groups were among the top 10 sites collectively accounting for 6 percent of the removed links.

Perplexing Process

"The BBC is representative of a lot of media organizations that object to the removal of links to their content or see it even as a form of censorship," Greg Sterling, vice president of strategy and insights for the Local Search Association, told TechNewsWorld. "There are some brand and potentially even financial consequences in the form of diminished traffic."

A larger objection is "the idea that individuals -- removal seekers -- are impacting their content and that they have no recourse in the matter," Sterling pointed out. "Some of them are calling for an appeal process."

The republication of the links in question undermines the goal of the right to be forgotten, "calling attention to the issues the individuals seeking removal are trying to suppress," he explained.

In short, "it's a messy and confusing process that may take many months or even longer to work out to all parties' satisfaction," said Sterling.

A Balancing Act

"There's an important and necessary balance here between the right to know and the right to privacy," John Simpson, privacy project director for Consumer Watchdog, told TechNewsWorld.

"In cases where it doesn't make sense anymore for your name to be linked to some bit of information that's now irrelevant and out of date, and you want to be delinked, I think you ought to be able to make that happen," he said.

Still, there needs to be a balance.

"If you're a public figure, there's going to be less of an expectation of privacy," observed Simpson.

Consumer Watchdog has no problem with the BBC's move. What it does object to is the fact that U.S. citizens don't yet enjoy similar rights.

Sixty-one percent of Americans believe some version of the "Right to Be Forgotten" is necessary, according to a recent poll.

"Google is clearly making the Right To Be Forgotten work for its users in Europe, but that is because you must under the law," Consumer Watchdog this week wrote in an open letter to Google Chairman Eric Schmidt and Google CEO Larry Page. "We call on you to voluntarily offer the same right to Google users in the United States."


Katherine Noyes has been reporting on business and technology for decades. You can find her on Twitter and Google+.


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