Google begins era of web censorship
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London - Google caused anger on Wednesday night when it began removing stories from its search engine as its new censorship regime came into force.
A millionaire banker blamed for helping cause the global financial crisis was among the first to be helped to hide his past.
An article about former Merrill Lynch chief Stan O’Neal was wiped by Google under “right to be forgotten” rules ordered by an EU court.
Articles about Tesco staff posting insults about customers online and a football referee who lied about a penalty were also among those removed.
On Wednesday, news organisations including the Daily Mail and the BBC received warning letters from Google announcing that, with “regret”, certain pages would no longer be found on Google searches.
Critics fear the rules will enable people to re-write history.
On Wednesday night 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.
“MailOnline intends to regularly publish lists of articles deleted from Google’s European search results so people can keep track of what has been deleted.
“There is no suggestion any of these articles are inaccurate.”
Google has received one demand every seven seconds to suppress information about someone’s past, since a controversial EU court ruling in May.
People can now fill out a form to ask that certain information about them - deemed “irrelevant” or out of date - be hidden when their name is searched online. Google posts a warning at the bottom of the results page that some stories may be missing.
One of the BBC pages no longer found in searches was a blog about former banker Mr O’Neal written by the BBC’s economics editor, Robert Peston, in 2007. It was about how O’Neal was forced out as head of Merrill Lynch after the banking giant suffered colossal losses on reckless investments.
On Wednesday night, Peston said Google had cast his 2007 blog into “oblivion”, and wrote: “Is the data in it ‘inadequate, irrelevant or no longer relevant’? Hmmm. Most people would argue that it is highly relevant for the track record, good or bad, of a business leader to remain on the public record - especially someone widely seen as having played an important role in the worst financial crisis in living memory.”
There are already signs of a backlash against the new policy. As word spread on Twitter, users were urging each other to retweet the name of O’Neal - who left the bank with $250-million - to start him “trending” on the social media site. Although he was the subject of Peston’s blog, it does not mean O’Neal was the person who applied for the censorship. Google does not identify people who make the requests.
Its letters to news organisations state: “We regret to inform you that we are no longer able to show the following pages from your website in response to certain searches on European versions of Google.”
The articles remain online, but Google searches no longer find them. One of them, posted on the MailOnline website in 2009, is headlined: “Red faces at Tesco as dozens of staff post insulting comments about its customers on internet forum.”
The censorship only applies to the internet giant’s British and European search sites. In theory this blocks Europe’s 368 million people from seeing certain pages.
But in a sign of how un-enforceable the new rules may become, users can easily bypass them by going to Google.com, the US version.
Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales said the system was doomed to fail because of this fact.