Google admits error in approving 'right to be forgotten' request of Dublin brothel keeper
Earlier this month, the internet giant “delisted” an article about convicted brothel keeper Mark McCormick. This meant the article no longer appeared in Google search results when certain search terms were used.
Google has admitted it wrongly approved a “right to be forgotten” request relating to press coverage of a criminal who was behind a multi-million euro vice ring.
Earlier this month, the internet giant “delisted” an Irish Independent article about convicted brothel keeper Mark McCormick. This meant the article no longer appeared in Google search results when certain search terms were used.
Ironically, the delisted news item had revealed how the European data privacy law was previously used to make articles about McCormick harder to find online.
Google reversed the decision to delist the article after it was queried by the Irish Independent.
But its handling of the matter has raised further questions about the operation of the “right to be forgotten”, introduced following a landmark ruling of the Court of Justice for the European Union (CJEU) in 2014, and whether it is open to abuse.
Mark McCormick admitted to running six brothels in Dublin in 2010. He received a 30-month jail sentence, 14 of which were suspended.
His father, convicted pimp Peter McCormick, is the founder of Ireland’s biggest sex-worker website.
Yet Google’s decision, temporarily at least, greatly reduced the chances of an article relating to Mark McCormick’s activities being found via the Google search engine.
The U-turn on the McCormick article delisting is an admission by Google it got the balancing exercise wrong
The CJEU decision established a right for individuals to request that internet search engines delist webpage links containing information about them that are “inadequate, irrelevant or no longer relevant, or excessive”.
But it is not an absolute right because public interest factors must be considered. Search engine operators such as Google ultimately must conduct a balancing exercise when dealing with “right to be forgotten” requests.
However, there is no external oversight of the process.
The U-turn on the McCormick article delisting is an admission by Google it got the balancing exercise wrong.
According to Google, any webpage that relates to a person’s criminal history is considered sensitive personal data under data protection law.
It says a search engine can refuse to remove a webpage only if displaying that page is strictly necessary for protecting the freedom of information of internet users.
The default position in a right to be forgotten case is that the page that is sought to be removed should be removed, unless the search engine can identify a public interest.
Google says it takes several factors into account when deciding whether to delist a webpage containing details of a conviction.
These include how long ago the offence occurred, the seriousness of the crime, whether there is a pattern or a likelihood the crime will be repeated, and whether the criminal activity is relevant to the person’s ongoing role in public life.
The McCormick delisting is not the first time some of Google’s decisions have been open to question.
TheIrish Independent revealed in 2021 that Google had also delisted news articles relating to convictions for sexual offences, including court reports on men convicted of possessing child sexual abuse material.
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