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May 14, 2014

Right to be Forgotten

With the news that Google must adhere to an EU directive known as the ‘right to be forgotten’ what are the implication for search engines and social media networks in the future?

The implications for Google following the European Court of Justice’s ruling that links to ‘irrelevant and outdated data should be erased on request’ are potentially huge.

Calls for Google to establish ‘a clear and simple way’ for companies and individuals to contact them to request information be removed have been expressed. While outcries over the possibility of online censorship resulting from such judgments have once again arisen. But possibly more worrying for the search engine giant is the likelihood that they will be faced with a deluge of similar claims.

And although Google’s argument is that it ‘does not control personal data’ and should not be responsible for censorship, the ruling was passed under a European Union (EU) directive known as the ‘right to be forgotten’. Originally proposed in 2012, the ‘right to be forgotten’ ruling is part of a major reform by the EU Commission to protect and “strengthen individual rights and tackle the challenges of globalisation and new technologies.”

The case was brought against Google Spain by a Spanish man who had requested information that he claimed was no longer relevant, and which was damaging his reputation, should be removed from the Internet. The verdict requires Google to remove some of the related links published on a third party website, and appearing on the search engine.

It is possible that the law could, in time, extend to social media networking sites – which is good news for those individuals and companies who are faced with negative search results for their key terms. But many companies operating in the industry have expressed concerns, saying the directive is ambiguous. After all, Google and other search engines do not have the facility to remove content, only links, this responsibility should lie with the hosting companies. Unwanted content is therefore likely to remain available online – albeit hidden. However, the EU, which is actively pushing for new data privacy laws, is understandably feeling a sense of victory.

So what does the ‘right to be forgotten’ actually mean?

Following the Spanish case, the EU Court of Justice stated in a press release: “An Internet search engine operator is responsible for the processing that it carries out of personal data which appear on web pages published by third parties. Thus, if, following a search made on the basis of a person’s name, the list of results displays a link to a web page which contains information on the person in question, that data subject may approach the operator directly and, where the operator does not grant his request, bring the matter before the competent authorities in order to obtain, under certain conditions, the removal of that link from the list of results.”

To read the full press release click here.

In an online article, Dave Lee,  technology writer for the BBC explains it in more simple language … “the information would only be removed if the impact on the individual’s privacy is greater than the public’s right to find it.”

When Viviane Reding, Vice-President of the European Commission and EU Justice Commission, addressed the Innovation Conference Digital, Life, Design in Munich in January 2012 (around the time of the original proposal), she said, “the right to be forgotten will build on already existing rules to better cope with privacy risks online.” Importantly, though, she stated that it “is of course not an absolute right. There are cases where there is a legitimate and legally justified interest to keep data in a data base. The archives of a newspaper are a good example. It is clear that the right to be forgotten cannot amount to a right of the total erasure of history. Neither must the right to be forgotten take precedence over freedom of expression or freedom of the media.”

If you need help with the removal of content from Google and believe this new ruling may apply to you, the team at Igniyte will help you make the correct application. We can also manage the process for you. We work with a wide range of individuals, companies and brands, helping them to overcome online issues in a strategic and sustainable way. Our aim is to provide long-term solutions, which support customers in building a positive online profile for both themselves and their businesses. Visit Right to be Forgotten – Igniyte for more details.

If you are experiencing negative results on the web, there are ways you can reduce the impact on your business and on your reputation. To discuss the best approach to personal reputation management and your online identity, please email me directly at simon@igniyte.co.uk for a confidential chat.

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