Google Could Face Legal Action over Right to be Forgotten

The Times has reported that Google may face legal action over its decision to reject some Right to be Forgotten requests. What questions does this raise over Google’s application of the ruling one year after it was made?

The right to be forgotten ruling

The Right to be Forgotten on search engines such as Google was established in May 2014 by the European Court of Justice. The Court ruled that search engines are responsible for the content they direct users to. This means that Google must remove links to inaccurate, inadequate, irrelevant or excessive information about a user if they ask the search engine to do so.

Data shows that one year on, Google has received over 250,000 requests to remove 920,000 links. The search engine has taken down 321,000 links, but failed to remove 450,000. Meanwhile, Google has received 37,000 requests to remove over 120,000 links from people related to the UK. It has taken down 39,000 links but failed to remove 66,000.

IOC may take legal action against Google

Roughly 150 people who didn’t have their request honoured by the search engine complained to the Information Commissioners Office (ICO). The Office upheld Google’s decision in 75% of these cases, but rejected it in the remaining 25%.

The IOC has suggested that Google has mis-handled requests from 35 individuals connected to the UK. The Office has now said that if it can’t resolve these cases by negotiating with Google, they may initiate legal proceedings.

David Smith, the Deputy Commissioner, said that “as with any data controller, we try and resolve the complaint by a process of discussion and negotiation first before we resort to our legal powers.” He went on to comment that “at some point, we’ll have to reach a decision as to whether we pursue any (cases) where Google doesn’t agree with us, through formal action.”

Google “haven’t always got privacy right in Europe”

A Google spokesman admitted: “We haven’t always got privacy right in Europe – not just because of errors we’ve made but our attitude too.  But our swift and thoughtful implementation of the Right to be Forgotten ruling showed that for Google this was a genuine ‘we get it’ moment.”

However, the types of requests that Google has honoured has made many wonder just how much the search engine “gets” the Right to be Forgotten. The ruling was made to force search engines to remove “irrelevant” information. However the company has been removing articles that relate to issues of public interest, which means that they’re still relevant and don’t fall under the remit of the right to be forgotten.

The Daily Mail wrote earlier this year that Google has removed a series of articles on its website, the Mail Online. For example, the search engine removed links to a Mail Online story about Kyle Ivison. He was given an Antisocial Behavioural Order (ASBO) after committing 40% of the crimes in his home town. This is still relevant as it’s in the public interest to report that a teenager has been given an ASBO, so Google shouldn’t have removed any links to the story in its search results.

Igniyte’s Right to be Forgotten service

Despite the incongruity over how Google has applied the Right to be Forgotten I have seen that it can be an effective online reputation management tool. Igniyte has seen a high rate of success when it has used the Right to be Forgotten to manage the online reputation of its clients. This is because we:

  • Assess the ability of a client’s claim before an application is lodged.
  • Use our knowledge and experience to effectively fill out the Right to be Forgotten removal request tool. This is particularly vital because Google only accepts one application per link, so the user must get it right first time.
  • Track the request until Google makes a decision.
  • Follow alternative removal avenues if Google denies the request, to give the client a greater chance of having unwanted content removed from the first page of a search on Google for their name.
  • Keep ourselves up to date with the latest right to be forgotten news, to ensure we know everything that could effect a client’s right to be forgotten application.

Tool for online reputation management

In conclusion, the IOC’s announcement has thrown up questions over the criteria that Google is using to assess right to be forgotten requests. This doesn’t necessarily mean the ruling can’t be used as an effective tool for online reputation management.

For more information on reputation management please contact me on tel: +44 (0) 203 542 8689 or email in confidence.

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