In May, a European court told Google it must assist people in cleaning up their online reputations by ruling that there is a “right to be forgotten.”
Google’s efforts to comply with that decision moved a step forward this week, as several British news organizations, including the BBC and The Guardian, announced that they had been notified that certain articles would no longer appear in search results because a complaint had been filed.
By Thursday, a frenzy had erupted over perceived censorship, while European regulators and the news outlets complained that Google’s compliance with the court ruling employed too broad a brush.
That deletions from Google’s search results could cause such a stir — after all, the articles continue to appear on the websites that published them and can still be found if a searcher sidesteps the European versions of Google and uses the U.S. version, Google.com — speaks to the influence of this particular search engine. By some estimates, Google has about an 85 percent share of search-engine traffic in Europe. In North America, that figure is less than 70 percent.
Whether coincidental or not — Google was not saying — the uproar, involving some of the most popular European news sites, amounted to a publicity campaign highlighting the problems Google had warned the order would cause.
“What I am seeing is a reverse PR game Google is playing — create a storm,” said Rishi Lakhani, an online marketing consultant in Britain.
About 70,000 requests for expunging information were submitted to Google from May 29 to June 30, according to a person with direct knowledge, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak publicly.