BBC responds to privacy law by publishing list of stories removed from Google search

BBC headquarters in London. Photo by Oli Scarff/Getty Images

On Thursday, the BBC began listing links to stories that Google had removed from their search engines, a year after an EU court ruling on privacy. Photo by Oli Scarff/Getty Images

Just over a year ago, the EU ruled that people had the “right to be forgotten,” meaning that EU citizens could request Google delete search results concerning them. From the start, the ruling was controversial, especially with media outlets which saw stories from their archives disappear from search results. Now, the BBC has found a way to protest, and is publishing a continually updating list of stories that have been removed from Google search results.

The BBC announced their decision in a blog post last week, saying they would maintain the list “primarily as a contribution to public policy.” The post added: “we also think the integrity of the BBC’s online archive is important and, although the pages concerned remain published on BBC Online, removal from Google searches makes parts of that archive harder to find.”

The order that search engines be required to remove certain information on citizens’ request came after a Spanish man sued a Spanish newspaper asking them to take down an auction notice of his repossessed home. He argued that the publication of the notice was detrimental to him and infringed on his privacy rights. The court agreed, but they also felt that the information itself was relevant and shouldn’t be removed entirely from the public domain.

This was the tightrope the court was trying to walk: The European Union guarantees a right to privacy in its constitution, but they also guarantee freedom of expression. In their ruling the EU said, “neither the right to the protection of personal data nor the right to freedom of expression are absolute rights. A fair balance should be sought between the legitimate interest of internet users and the person’s fundamental rights … The case itself provides an example of this balancing exercise.”

The BBC isn’t the first news outlet to protest the right to be forgotten ruling. The Telegraph also keeps a list of stories Google has blocked, and both the Guardian and the Daily Mail have written op-eds and stories that reflect negatively on the ruling. The EU court thought it was striking an adequate balance between privacy and public information when making the right to be forgotten judgement. Many European news organizations, however, disagree.