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Google’s right to be forgotten creates Streisand effect

A new law, which forces Google to remove links to stories about people who want themselves forgotten, appears to be backfiring. 

A BBC story about Stan O’Neal, former boss of investment bank Merrill Lynch, has been removed from the search giant’s listings, but news of its removal has jumped to the top of Google News. At the time of writing, 85 stories were appearing under Google News searches for ‘Stan O’Neal’. 

The ruling made by the European Court of Justice in May, said that Google would have to delete inadequate, irrelevant or no longer relevant data from its results if a request was made from a member of the public. 

An odd picture of Barbra Streisand we unearthed on Flickr. You should probably share the hell out of it.
An odd picture of Barbra Streisand we unearthed on Flickr. You should probably share the hell out of it.

On July 2, journalist Robert Peston revealed that the BBC had received a message from Google saying that links to his 2007 article ‘Merrill’s mess’ was being removed from searches on certain European versions of Google. 

Peston argues that this law effectively removes news from public view, given that Google is a prime source for news for many. 

It’s not just the BBC that’s seeing articles removed from Google searches either. The Daily Mail reports that two of its stories, one regarding a Scottish referee and another over an airline accused of racism, have been wiped from search results after requests to be forgotten.

MailOnline publisher Martin Clarke said: “These examples show what a nonsense the right to be forgotten is. It is the equivalent of going into libraries and burning books you don’t like.” 

The Guardian also reported that stories relating to former Premier League referee Dougie MacDonald has also disappeared. 

Since the new law came into effect, Google says that it’s received over 50,000 requests to remove data from its database. As publications report on their stories disappearing from Google News, the Streisand Effect has taken hold. 

Singer Barbra Streisand attempted in 2003 to suppress photos of her home in California. This served only to draw more attention to her residence, inadvertently generating more stories about it. 

Peston argues that his 2007 article on O’Neal’s exit from Merrill Lynch should not have been removed. The piece profiles the track record of the business leader, which Peston says is in the public interest and therefore should not be considered ‘irrelevant or no longer relevant’. 

Interestingly, an update posted by Peston suggests that the person who requested that the article might have been somebody in the comments, rather than O’Neal himself. Could Stan O’Neal be a victim of Streisand-by-proxy? 

Recombu was unable to find the ‘Merrill’s mess’ piece via but you can feasily find it from searches, or by using another search engine, like DuckDuckGo which has no EU-based offices. 

Google has yet to respond to the BBC’s request for the article to be relisted. 


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