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Ear to the Ground

The ‘Right to Be Forgotten’ Is Already Messing Up Journalism

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Posted on Jul 2, 2014

Ken Wolter /

A BBC editor says his 2007 blog on the financial meltdown has been effectively deleted from the Internet thanks to a European court ruling meant to protect privacy.

Google tells Robert Peston that his was one of 50,000 removal requests received in the days since the search giant began complying with a European high court order to provide a way for people to bury their embarrassing pasts. The idea is that someone should not have to be haunted by every mistake he or she has ever made simply because Google wants to digitize and make accessible all the world’s information.

For journalists, the already difficult job of balancing privacy concerns with the need to inform the public has been complicated by Google’s profit motives and the sense, particularly in Europe, that the right to privacy has been offended.

Peston’s blog, which covered the ouster of a high flying finance executive in the lead-up to Merrill Lynch’s collapse, ought not to be purged (more or less) from the Web because someone named in it (or perhaps the comments, he wonders) is embarrassed.

Surely the financial collapse of that period is something people will want to study for some time, and hindering the most effective research tool on the planet, Google, will make that study substantially more difficult for future generations.

The problem may be exacerbated by Google’s over-eagerness to comply with the law. Just as YouTube would rather take down any video containing copyrighted material rather than launch a fair use investigation every single time, it stands to reason that Google has a pretty low bar for these takedown requests. Perhaps this is an opportunity for Bing, at last.

—Posted by Peter Z. Scheer

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