Google could flag adjusted search results, report says

Under new European rules Google has to remove links to offending material online, but you will at least know when your search results have been doctored.

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Google search results are flagged when links are left out due to copyright violation. Google

When links have been snipped out of your Google search you'll know about it, according to new reports.

European lawmakers recently ordered Google to remove links to articles and online posts that contain inaccurate, irrelevant or out-of-date information, granting individuals the "right to be forgotten." The idea is to stop the Web's long memory from keeping information blackening the name of, for example, someone who was wrongfully arrested, but Internet giants see it as censorship.

In order to give you an idea when your search results have been adjusted, The Guardian reports that Google is considering an alert on each page from which links have been left out.

The alert could be similar to the way Google currently flags that results have been removed over complaints of copyright infringement, as pictured above.

Because the ruling covers Europe, search results in the US and the rest of the world should still show links to the offending material.

"The purpose of the ruling is not to remove information," says Jim Killock of the Open Right Group, "but to stop irrelevant information from being presented against certain search terms. Flagging changes if done right could fit in with the ruling, but may end up annoying people from both sides of of the argument."

After the EU ruling, Google set up an online form that allows you to submit links you want removed, with an explanation of why you think the information is out-of-date or incorrect. Although it's an easy form to fill in, you do have to identify offending links yourself -- you can't just ask Google to remove any mention of you or any mention of a particular indiscretion.

Google says it has received 41,000 requests to remove links, highlighting ne'er-do-wells looking to whitewash past wrongdoing including a convicted paedophile and a corrupt politician. Google says 31 percent of requests so far involve fraud or scams, 20 percent involve arrests over serious crime, and arrests over child pornography specifically made up 12 percent.

It's worth noting though that just because the requests involve wrongdoing the people making the requests aren't necessarily wrongdoers trying to cover their tracks. Google doesn't want to remove links, which the search giant sees as censorship, so it's inevitable the Big G will emphasise the wrong'uns making requests -- but some requests will inevitably be people who were, say, accused in error and simply wish to clear their name.

Once you submit the request, a panel decides whether to approve the removal. The panel, including privacy experts, will judge whether it's in the public interest that the links in question remain available for all to see.

Privacy campaigners are concerned that Google is in charge of that decision. Jodie Ginsberg, chief executive of Index on Censorship, warns that a flag highlighting removed content "does nothing whatsoever to tackle the fundamental problem with the 'right to be forgotten' ruling, which is the total lack of legal oversight in this process. We remain extremely concerned about a ruling that opens the door to a censoring of the past without any proper checks and balances."

A spokesperson for Google declined to comment.

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