Right to be Forgotten May Improve Privacy Online But How Much?

One week on from the European Court of Justice’s ruling that individuals have a ‘right to be forgotten’ on the Internet, and the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) has officially responded, according to a BBC News report.

Writing in a post on the ICO blog , Deputy Commissioner and Director of Data Protection, David Smith, talks about the “four things we’ve learned from the EU Google judgment”, which he identifies as:

  1. Search engines may have to remove some search results
  2. There’s life in the data protection law yet
  3. A ‘right to be forgotten’ will still be difficult in practice
  4. This is the beginning, not the end

The ICO may represent the UK only, but the issues the office is dealing with are the same worldwide. The ruling declares that search engine providers, such as Google, have a legal responsibility to delete links that contain ‘personal information’ as long as it is not in the public interest or relevant. And, according to Mr Smith of the ICO, the ruling “backs our view that search engines are subject to data protection law, clarifying an area that was previously uncertain.”

Although the new ruling potentially allows for more privacy online, search engine providers are only required to remove links to specific types of content, for example information relating to: ‘spent’ convictions; victims of domestic violence; asylum seekers, and celebrity figures. The ruling only applies to individuals and not to companies or brands.

Igniyte has been working with individuals, companies and brands for a number of years, helping them to remove inappropriate links and false material published about them on the Internet. We work closely with Google to do this, and also with the websites where the material is published. It is certainly no easy task – the process can be lengthy and complicated. The ICO recognises that this is the case. They are also very clear about just how difficult it will be, in some cases, to make a judgment over whether a link should lawfully be removed or not.

Accordingly, Google already has plans in place to implement an easier-to-use tool to help individuals remove links from websites on the search engine. And other search engines will no doubt be developing similar methods. But it will take time and in the meantime what do individuals do? Has the ruling actually made it easier to seek privacy online and will traces of unwanted information ever truly disappear from the Internet?

Google has remained relatively quiet, publicly, about the matter. They have stated that they are disappointed with the verdict. No doubt they are being inundated with requests to remove links, and more, as individuals fail to realise that removing links will not delete the offending material from the Internet.

If individuals are looking to remove information from the Internet, Google’s first piece of advice is to “contact the webmaster of the page and ask them to delete the content in question.” This is because even if Google deletes the link, the website remains accessible. The ‘webmaster’ however, has the ability to “remove the page entirely” from the Internet.

While the ruling will be extremely difficult to enforce, the ICO are optimistic that search engine providers will now start considering solutions to help them deal with link removal requests, and ultimately that the ruling will work towards improving privacy online.

You can find out more about the ruling here Right to be Forgotten – Igniyte. If you believe the ruling may apply to you and need help with link removal, or you would like to speak to me about any issue affecting your online reputation, please contact me to discuss.  All enquiries are dealt with in the strictest of confidence.


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