The Information Commissioner’s Office has demanded the internet giant remove nine search results with information on an individual it is has deemed to be no longer relevant — one of the criteria that defines the ‘right to be forgotten’. In this case, that irrelevant information pertains to a minor criminal offence the individual committed a decade ago.
Much like the “Streisand effect”, named after Barbra Streisand’s 2003 attempt to suppress photographs of her Malibu home, the original removal of the news story drew more attention to the crime and the individual. Further news stories mentioning this are now visible in search results for the complainant’s name.
Thus far, Google has point blank refused to remove the latter links, saying they contain information that is of public interest. The ICO has not contested this argument, but does not believe the complaint’s name should bring up the search results when typed into Google. It has now given the search giant 35 days to remove the links.
“The European court ruling last year was clear that links prompted by searching on an individual’s name are subject to data protection rules. That means they shouldn’t include personal information that is no longer relevant,” ICO deputy commissioner David Smith said.
“Google was right, in its original decision, to accept that search results relating to the complainant’s historic conviction were no longer relevant and were having a negative impact on privacy. It is wrong of them to now refuse to remove newer links that reveal the same details and have the same negative impact.”
WIRED.co.uk has contacted Google for comment, and will update this article if we hear back.
Google’s decision to keep links to the latest news articles demonstrates the complexity of attempting to wipe the slate clean on the web — as the right to be forgotten intends to do. Keeping the links live also heightens public awareness of this fact, and could spark further debate over whether Google is correct in all of its decisions to delist content. The ICO, however, is having none of this — arguing that just because papers want to write about and debate a topic, it does not necessitate that the individual’s name be involved.
“Let’s be clear,” continued Smith. “We understand that links being removed as a result of this court ruling is something that newspapers want to write about. And we understand that people need to be able to find these stories through search engines like Google. But that does not need them to be revealed when searching on the original complainant’s name.”
Google has continued to publish data on the types of requests it has received. As a result we know that just 5 percent of the 220,000 requests made in 2014 were related to criminals, high-profile figures or politicians, suggesting the EU ruling on privacy has not been abused in the way many feared it would. News outlets have themselves gone further, publishing lists of links to stories that have been delisted by Google, as the BBC did earlier this year.
Google can fight the ICO’s latest ruling by appealing to the General Regulatory Chamber.