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UK regulator orders Google to pull 'right to be forgotten' removal stories

Google and European regulators continue to fight over which links ought to be removed under the controversial "right to be forgotten." In an order this week, regulators have taken issue over a decision by Google not to remove nine links, which the company argued were newsworthy. It's among the more complicated situations that have come up: the links are to articles about the right to be forgotten, but they reference a specific person who successfully had Google remove results about an old crime. Google says the results are of significant public importance and ought to be presented; regulators argue that they undermine the right to be forgotten by surfacing search results that aren't relevant to that person.

"We understand that links being removed ... is something that newspapers want to write about."

The order comes from the UK's Information Commissioner’s Office, which has given Google 35 days to remove the results. Google does not appear to have replied to the order yet; it did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

"We understand that links being removed as a result of this court ruling is something that newspapers want to write about," says ICO deputy commissioner David Smith. "And we understand that people need to be able to find these stories through search engines like Google. But that does not need them to be revealed when searching on the original complainant’s name."

Right to be forgotten requests allow EU residents to have Google remove unflattering search results about them — such as a news story about a minor crime — so long as the results are no longer in the public interest. Those results can still appear in other searches, but they won't appear if you search for the name of the person who made the request. In this case, there's a weirdly meta situation, in which Google is leaving up news stories that discuss a person's request to have links removed.

While that may defeat the efficacy of the right to be forgotten for specific people, it also hurts the public's ability to get information. Of course, that's the entire controversy over the right to the forgotten. Google's response to this order may help establish just how strictly search engines have to adhere to the public's request to remove results.