Newspapers are now accusing Google of censoring their articles every time that a search result is being removed in relation to one of their articles. However, what the very lazy journalists are not doing is testing the search results to see if any of the key figures are likely to have gained the redaction, at least not before telling the world about it.
A search for Stan o’Neal brings up Robert Peston’s article on the first page. So what redaction could have taken place here? The only personal names on that page, other than Peston’s are for individuals in the comments section. So the likelihood is that Google has redacted a search for someone whose comment appeared unduly highly in their search results. That’s likely to fit within the criteria laid down by the ECJ: results that are inadequate, irrelevant, no longer relevant, or excessive.
How about the Express’ article about George Osborne’s brother Adam? Searches for Adam Osborne and Rahala Noor bring up the article on the first page. George Osborne has a lot of material and is a public figure so it won’t likely to be about him. It’s possible that Sir Peter Osborne has asked for a redaction. Would that be reasonable? Probably, as the article isn’t really about him.
One problem seems to be that very prominent and interesting articles get pushed up search results for people who otherwise don’t have a lot of highly ranked material on the Internet relating to them. For people posting comments on news articles about far more famous people, this result is not surprising.
The Guardian seem to have been the victim of a mistake by Google, who have changed their minds about that redaction. In each case, we might wonder if we really want Google to make this decision, and where they are drawing the line.
But if Google want to make life easier for themselves, and reduce the number of complaints, they should see if there is some way their notices, or by providing some commentary, could make it clear that redactions are unlikely to be about the main subjects of these articles. For public policy, we need to think about the extent to which we trust Google to make these decisions, and how we make sure they don’t remove searches that relate to matters of public interest.