Media Companies Republishing Google Right-To-Be-Forgotten Links

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Google is notifying publishers when it de-indexes their links under the controversial “Right to Be Forgotten” (RTBF). What this does is often trigger republication of a version of the story by the media outlet or a page that indicates what URLs are being removed from the search index.

Among others, that’s what the BBC has started to do. Following a London meeting of Google’s Advisory Council on RTBF the media company said that it will publish a list of removed URLs following Google notification. Under RTBF the publishers are generally not compelled to remove the stories or URLs themselves, it only pertains to search results.

RTBF advocates argue this link republication calls attention to the very issues and information the affected individuals seek to suppress through removal requests. However publishers have often balked at their stories being de-indexed as a form of censorship.

Google only removes URLs for the specific country index in which the request is made. The disputed content remains on Google.com results. A number of European officials have argued removals should also be de-indexed at Google.com, which the company so far has refused to do.

Acceding to that demand, however, would effectively extend European law across the globe — including to the US which has different legal standards around speech and public information. This is another example of the persistent challenge of applying local laws to the internet, which is inherently global.

Almost nobody is happy with the application of RTBF at this point. Google isn’t. Neither are the publishers that lose visibility; nor are privacy advocates and data protection regulators who complain of the “Streisand effect” resulting from republication of removed links.

The Google Advisory Council’s London forum yesterday lasted roughly four hours and showcased the many discordant viewpoints on RTBF. Some publishers expressed a desire to be able to appeal the removal decisions, while many argued that the removal decision-making process needs to be more formal and transparent.

Right now Google’s decision-making is something of a black box. However the company has started sharing RTBF data as part of its “transparency repor.” But the process by which it makes decisions about what links stay and what links will be removed is currently not very clear. Google said it had evaluated 497,695 URLs for removal as part of 144,954 RTBF requests. The company reported that 42 percent of those URLs had been removed.

Many of the speakers at the London meeting argued that Google should not be in the position of making these decisions in its sole discretion and called for more formal procedures. Most who spoke criticized the current state of affairs, citing considerable confusion around the process and a lack of standards for judging what kinds of requests should be granted.

In fairness, Google is in a very difficult position and is trying to invite and address all the varied viewpoints on the issue. You can watch the full London meeting below.

For their part the many countries in the EU are trying to work out procedures and appeal processes for RTBF. It will probably months if not longer before any sort of procedural consensus starts to emerge.

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