Google takes down BBC blog on Merrill disasters after privacy request

Mike Mergen/Bloomberg—Getty Images

Those waiting to expose the weaknesses of the European Union’s decision to force Google Inc. (GOOG) to remove embarrassing links about people haven’t had to wait long for their opportunity.

The U.K. is up in arms Thursday on the news that Google has removed from its search results a blog posted by none other than the august Robert Peston, economics editor of the British Broadcasting Corporation, on the demise of Merrill Lynch chairman Stan O’Neal in 2007.

The news has been seized upon (at least by those who haven’t read beyond the headline) as proof that the rich and famous will abuse the European Court of Justice’s ruling to muzzle anyone wanting to expose their past misdeeds or embarrassments. The ECJ had ruled that Google, which has a 90% market share in searches in Europe, must remove  “inadequate, irrelevant or no longer relevant” data from its results when a member of the public requests it.

But, contrary to what you might expect, this almost certainly isn’t an attempt by one of the biggest walking disasters ever to hit Wall Street to cover up his tracks. O’Neal may have ushered in the complete destruction of Merrill Lynch as an independent company with his vanity and greed, but he surely isn’t stupid enough to think he can destroy the evidence of that when the damage to the U.S. economy is still visible from space to the naked eye.

Peston surmises in a blog today that the take-down request may have come from one of the commenters on it, wishing to conceal an opinion that might now seem embarrassing.

But even that seems a little far-fetched – the comments on the blog are decidedly tame (due to British restraint, obviously), and commenters can usually remove their own posts themselves, after all.

Of the 27 comments, the one most likely to raise an eyebrow comes from a certain Oren Vinishavsky, making an egregious and racially-charged claim about the motivation of O’Neal, an African-American.

Perhaps Mr. Vinishavsky has since applied for a job at the AACP and was afraid of what the background check would throw up. We don’t know, and we couldn’t reach Mr. Vinishavsky early Thursday (a Google search of his name only brings up the Peston blog, which seems sorta counter-intuitive. )

As for Google, a spokesman said the removal was part of  “a new and evolving process”.

“We’ll continue to listen to feedback and will also work with data protection authorities and others as we comply with the ruling,” he added.

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