Why you shouldn’t jump to conclusions about the BBC’s “banned from Google” URL list

The BBC have published a list of their URLs that have been removed from Google search results under the “right to be forgotten”.

I’ve seen a fair bit of commentary saying this is brave journalism, and being a bit gleeful about people’s attempts to keep an article quiet being thwarted.

The BBC blog post notes that:

“We are doing this primarily as a contribution to public policy. We think it is important that those with an interest in the ‘right to be forgotten’ can ascertain which articles have been affected by the ruling”


“When looking through this list it is worth noting that we are not told who has requested the delisting, and we should not leap to conclusions as to who is responsible. The request may not have come from the obvious subject of a story.”

I’ve no doubt that some of the articles have been purged from Google for direct name searches by people seeking to cover up something dodgy they’d done.

But I just want to put the counter argument for a second.

I have a very good friend who was the victim of a very serious crime. Because legal proceedings were active, the local newspaper report of the incident named my friend as the victim, but wasn’t able to name the suspect.

Due to the SEO law of link authority, that story was the #1 result on a search for their name for the next eight-or-so years. Until, I believe, they have used that right to be forgotten to remove it from Google.

Up until then, any potential employer, any potential date, anybody at all looking them up on the web would find out about the traumatic crime they were a victim of before they found out anything else about them.

Does that seem right?

What would you do?

So, yes, while it is a noble move for journalism to list some of those stories saying “people have asked Google to make these unavailable”, don’t forget there can be some motives for the right to be forgotten that are, to my mind, fair and just, and do not interfere with our right to report or publish.