Do individuals have the right to be forgotten?


Do individuals have the right to be forgotten? ...

For those of you that aren’t familiar Google’s mission is to organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful.

As the Google’s index has grown and grown so has the information contained within it and this information contains both positive and negative sentiment.

As you’d expect, brands with bad reviews don’t want potential customers to find them and individuals that have been embroiled in controversy and scandal would prefer that this information would disappear.

The problem is that whilst Google’s algorithm will always strive to return the most relevant and useful results, there are scenarios where old or inaccurate documents can rank. Unfortunately the only way to get these pages to go away is to physically take them down. In reality unless the site in question is breaking the law there is very little you can do.

At the moment it is possible on Google for individuals to make a content removal request, if they discover personably identifiable information which they feel is making them susceptible to harm. Google do state that they judge removals on a case by case basis but there are options to submit removals if sites are displaying your signature, credit card number or passport number.

Currently if you choose the option to complain about incorrect or inaccurate information you get he following canned response.

Google content removal request screen capture

Recently a Spanish lawyer called Mario Costeja González sued Google because their search results listed a search result that linked him to a case from 1988, despite the fact he had subsequently been cleared of any wrong doing. Mr González took his case to the European Court of Justice and they have just ruled in his favour.

This landmark test case sets an interesting precedent. The ruling specifies that links to data that is not relevant to the public should be erased on request. Whilst this rule does not apply to factual data we do expect to see an avalanche of requests over the next few months as the new legislation is tested.

Potentially this has a number of implications for internet privacy. Britain has a strong affinity with tabloid journalism and whilst the tabloids work hard on investigating stories that are of interest to the general public, there have been some notable scandals which illustrate that they have been prepared to overstep the line to get a scoop.

Again I can’t predict how celebrities and sports stars may react to this piece of legislation, but I’m sure they’ll welcome the opportunity to be able to remove articles from results that have been found to be made up or not of interest to the public.

I would also imagine some Politicians would like to have certain elements from their past erased from Google’s index. Nick Clegg springs to mind here. It’s been alleged that whilst he was at Cambridge University he was a member of the Cambridge University Conservative association.

People that have been convicted of crimes and have come out of prison rehabilitated may also want to have search results that reference crimes removed to allow them to reintegrate back into society. At the same time the victims of their crimes may also want this information relating to the original crime to remain in the public domain to act as a deterrent to prevent the individual from reoffending.

The key point is do people have the “right to be forgotten”? The European court certainly think so, especially when information is inaccurate or one sided.

Currently we’re not too sure how easy it will be to submit such a request and how much legal resource it will require. Already we can see a couple of legal entities bidding on “right to be forgotten” on AdWords.

Right to be forgotten SERP

Whilst the offending content or site will remain live, Google and other search engines will have to remove inaccurate listings from their results pages.

This ruling however will not apply to things like negative reviews or articles that are factually correct. In the UK fake or defamatory reviews are illegal and the logical way to deal with them is to use existing legal legislation such as the Defamation Act of 2013.

For now this ruling only affects the EU so it will be interesting to see how Google reacts in its other international markets, particularly the US. In the meantime we’ll be eagerly watching to see how things progress. Individuals claiming the “right to be forgotten” are certainly going to increase as more and more people look to erase or delete information about themselves in Google’s ever expanding index.


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