As you may have heard, recently Google was ordered to provide the functionality for people to request the removal of search results under an EU ‘right to be forgotten’ law. The law essentially grants individuals the power to request that search results be removed from the search engine, should certain conditions be met. As such, only searched that are made in Europe can be affected by the requests and each request must abide by certain conditions before it can be accepted.
Webmasters had expressed concern over how far reaching the ‘right to be forgotten’ ruling could be, with some wondering if such powers could lead to requests being made to remove perfectly legitimate web pages in an effort to damage the search rankings of a company.
Removed stories so far have ranged from coverage of court cases involving individuals that could lead to that person having trouble securing a job through to blog and forum comment posts that the individual no longer wants to be easily accessible.
BBC News yesterday reported that 12 of its stories have been removed from the search results, with the BBC being notified of each removal. However no information about the person making the removal request has been provided in an effort to protect privacy.
So far Google claims to have received more than 90,000 requests to remove more than 320,000 pages, with 50% of those processed being granted.
Of particular worry is a statement from Google which read “Please note that in many cases, the affected queries do not relate to the name of any person mentioned prominently on the page. For example, in some cases, the name may appear only in a comment section.”
This could lead to potential cases whereby an individual places a spurious comment on a competitor’s website and then requests its removal under ‘right to be forgotten’. Hopefully we can be satisfied with Google’s assurances that such practices will be caught, but it is of possible concern to webmasters.
Even without manipulation, prominent websites such as that owned by the BBC will be unhappy to see news stories removed from search results simply because a commenter no longer wishes their name to be visible. There is no word yet on if the BBC and other affected sites are able to simply remove the offending comment so that affected pages can be included in the results again.
While we can all certainly respect that this law was made with the right to privacy of the individual in mind, it does pose some interesting questions and potentially unforeseen consequences. We would be willing to bet that future updates by Google will place some focus on preventing abuses of the system and perhaps may provide some functionality or time frame for affected webmasters to remove or alter content to prevent it from being removed.
These are interesting times for Google, especially as the search engine provider is coming under increased scrutiny in regards to privacy concerns. Webmasters and SEO specialists will need to keep a close eye on proceedings to ensure that they aren’t caught in the crossfire.