Google’s Innuendo

If you search on Google for my name, Jon Baines, or the full version, Jonathan Baines, you see, at the foot of the page of search results

Some results may have been removed under data protection law in Europe. Learn more

Oh-ho! What have I been up to recently? Well, not much really, and certainly nothing that might have led to results being removed under data protection law. Nor similarly, have John Keats, Eleanor Roosevelt and Nigel Molesworth (to pick a few names at random), a search on all of whose names brings up the same message. And, of course, if you click the hyperlink marked by the words “Learn more” you find out in fact that Google has simply set its algorithms to display the message in Europe

when a user searches for most names, not just pages that have been affected by a removal.

It is a political gesture – one that reflects Google’s continuing annoyance at the 2014 decision – now forever known as “Google Spain” – of the Court of Justice of the European Union which established that Google is a data controller for the purpose of search returns containing personal data, and that it must consider requests from data subjects for removal of such personal data. A great deal has been written about this, some bad and some good (a lot of the latter contained in the repository compiled by Julia Powles and Rebekah Larsen) and I’m not going to try to add to that, but what I have noticed is that a lot of people see this “some results may have been removed” message, and become suspicious. For instance, this morning, I noticed someone tweeting to the effect that the message had come up on a search for “Chuka Umunna”, and their supposition was that this must relate to something which would explain Mr Umunna’s decision to withdraw from the contest for leadership of the Labour Party. A search on Twitter for “some results may have” returns a seething mass of suspicion and speculation.

Google is conducting an unnecessary exercise in innuendo. It could easily rephrase the message (“With any search term there is a possibility that some results may have been removed…”) but chooses not to do so, no doubt because it wants to undermine the effect of the CJEU’s ruling. It’s shoddy, and it drags wholly innocent people into its disagreement.

Furthermore, there is an argument that the exercise could be defamatory. I am not a lawyer, let alone a defamation lawyer, so I will leave it to others to consider that argument. However, I do know a bit about data protection, and it strikes me that, following Google Spain, Google is acting as a data controller when it processes a search on my name, and displays a list of results with the offending “some results may have been removed” message. As a data controller it has obligations, under European law (and UK law), to process my personal data “fairly and lawfully”. It is manifestly unfair, as well as wrong, to insinuate that information relating to me might have been removed under data protection law. Accordingly, I’ve written to Google, asking the message to be removed

Google UK Ltd
Belgrave House
76 Buckingham Palace Road
London SW1W 9TQ

16 May 2015

Dear Google

Complaint under Data Protection Act 1998

When a search is made on Google for my name “Jonathan Baines”, and, alternatively, “Jon Baines”, a series of results are returned, but at the foot of the page a message (“the message”) is displayed:

Some results may have been removed under data protection law in Europe. Learn more

To the best of my knowledge, no results have in fact been removed.

The first principle in Schedule One of the Data Protection Act 1998 (DPA) requires a data controller to process personal data fairly and lawfully. In the circumstances I describe, “Jonathan Baines”, “Jon Baines” and the message constitute my personal data, of which you are clearly data controller.

It is unfair to suggest that some results may have been removed under data protection law. This is because the message carries an innuendo that what may have been removed was content that was embarrassing, or that I did not wish to be returned by a Google search. This is not the case. I do not consider that the hyperlink “Learn more” nullifies the innuendo: for instance, a search on Twitter for the phrase “some results may have been removed” provides multiple examples of people assuming the message carries an innuendo meaning.

Accordingly, please remove the message from any page containing the results of a search on my name Jonathan Baines, or Jon Baines, and please confirm to me that you have done so. You are welcome to email me to this effect at [REDACTED]

With best wishes,
Jon Baines

 

The views in this post (and indeed all posts on this blog) are my personal ones, and do not represent the views of any organisation I am involved with. Some words may have been removed under data protection law.

7 Comments

Filed under Data Protection, Europe

7 responses to “Google’s Innuendo

  1. Blocking every person on that Twitter search is now on my to-do list.

  2. Ganesh Sittampalam

    Another possible explanation is that they could be doing it to avoid leaking information about who has requested things be removed.

  3. Chris Knight

    To be fair to Google (I know, boring), they would say if they ever replied to you that they have to put it on the bottom on every search because, as Ganesh suggests, otherwise it highlights who has made a request. This is precisely what the Article 29 Working Party Guidelines (14/225) (26 Nov 2014) tells them they must do at para 22. Of course they could phrase it differently, but it says ‘may have been removed’, so it probably sufficiently caveated to be appropriate. Of course the WP also tells them to apply to it to .com, and they aren’t quite so enthused by that suggestion…

    • They did reply to me, and told me to bog off (to Google Inc.). Coming soon though, a blog post where ICO says that, pace Edem, “Jon Baines” is not my personal data (on these facts, I don’t necessarily disagree).

      Ultimately, what I object to is the specific wording, and the fact that they deliberately, IMO, worded it that way to undermine Google Spain, when they could have easily worded it to avoid the innuendo. Whether that’s a legal basis for challenge is moot.

  4. Pingback: Complaint about Google’s Innuendo, redux | informationrightsandwrongs

  5. Pingback: Fortifying Networks – Complaint about Google’s Innuendo, redux

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