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The Right to Be Forgotten: Google Hides News Report Criticizing Merrill Lynch

Story Can Still Be Found With Some Searches

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Google has begun removing some search results in Europe after a court decision affirming a "right to be forgotten" in certain cases, but its decision to hide links to a BBC article criticizing Merrill Lynch is drawing criticism.

Google alerted BBC Economics Editor Robert Peston that it would no longer show certain search outcomes linking to his 2007 post entitled "Merrill's mess," Mr. Peston said on his BBC blog yesterday. The decision followed a May ruling by the European Court of Justice that allows members of the public to request "inadequate, irrelevant, no longer relevant, or excessive" data be deleted from Google searches.

"We're surprised that this is the outcome of the ECJ ruling and concerned at the implications of the removal from search of this type of material," the BBC said in an e-mailed statement to Bloomberg News today.

Google didn't tell Mr. Peston who requested the removal, he said in his blog. Because the item, about former Merrill CEO Stan O'Neal, can still be found on Google by searching for Mr. O'Neal's name, Mr. Preston speculated that the request to hide the post may have come from a commentator.

"Google won't tell me, one way or another," Mr. Preston said.

"We've recently started taking action on the removals request," Google said in a statement. "It's a new and evolving process for us and we'll continue to listen to feedback and we'll also work with data protection authorities and others as we comply with the ruling."

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The BBC story was critical of Merrill Lynch, saying the investment bank was acting as a risk taker rather than an agent or broker.

Victoria Garrod, a London-based spokeswoman for Bank of America, which bought Merrill Lynch in 2009, had no immediate comment when reached by phone.

Since the May 13 court verdict, Google has started offering an online tool to allow people to ask for search results to be redacted. The right-to-be-forgotten ruling was a surprise for Google and other companies already facing greater scrutiny over privacy practices in the 28-nation European Union.

"The compliance burden on Google is huge and it's ballooning, particularly with the recent publicity," said David Copping, a partner at London-based law firm Farrer & Co. "How Google will deal with the huge volume of requests, when each is so complicated, is very difficult and each case has to be assessed on its merits."

At issue is the fact the EU cast a wide net in terms of what a person can have removed from search results, he said. The information doesn't have to be untrue to be erased, he said.

"Faced with liability it seems Google will err on the side of caution and take things down; that's traditionally been approach of big tech companies," Mr. Copping said.

~ Bloomberg News ~

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