News stories about a child rapist, a shoplifter and a financial scandal have all gone missing from Google search results in recent weeks — but now links to the stories have reappeared on “Hidden from Google,” a website that is archiving examples of internet censorship that are taking place under a controversial new law.
The law allows EU citizens to force search engines to remove links to websites that they believe display outdated or irrelevant information. The law, which took effect in May in response to a court ruling, has led to an avalanche of “delete me” requests to Google, including many from rogues and criminals.
The law has already led search results from major news outlets like the BBC and the Guardian to disappear, which is what led U.S.web developer Afaq Tariq to create the “Hidden from Google” page. The site provides a link to the story removed from Google, along with the relevant search term and the source that revealed the missing information. Here’s a screenshot:
Censored pages include a BBC story about Carlos Silvano, a Portuguese pedophile, and a Daily Mail story about Gregory Sim, who had sex on a crowded train in 2008. Tariq told the the BBC that the list is now very short because he wants to ensure that “an article is being censored consistently across European domains” before he includes it.
Overall, the “Hidden from Google” page is likely to add to the ongoing alarm and confusion over the new European law. Implementation of the law has been chaotic as a result of vague instructions from the European Court of Justice, which declared in May that EU citizens could tell Google to delete search results under a 20-year-old data law, but that results in the public interest could remain.
The law is also creating major headaches for Google. In an essay published last week in the Guardian, the company’s top lawyer, David Drummond, explained that Google is reviewing more than 75,000 requests, and is trying to determine which search results to take down.
The issue is more complicated still because the law applies only to national versions of Google — meaning that the story about Carlos Silvano disappeared from sites like Google.co.uk but not Google.com or Google.ca. Also, it’s not always clear who has scrubbed the historical record or why. In the case of a now-missing BBC story about Merrill Lynch chairman Stan O’Neal, it turns out to have been a commenter on the page who triggered the removal, not O’Neal himself.
And while a site like “Hidden from Google” may serve as a censorship watchdog of sorts, it’s hard to imagine how it will be very useful as the removals pile up, and thousands or millions of search listings start to disappear from the internet.
As I’ve argued before, we’re on dangerous ground here as a result of the EU court’s poorly thought-out ruling, which fails to balance the fight to forget against the right to remember.