The right to be forgotten online

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Imagine that, as a company boss, there is old, potentially damaging information online,  that could affect your brand reputation and tarnish what you and your team have spent years trying to perfect.  Now there may be a solution – the right to be forgotten.

In 2014, the European Court of Justice (ECJ) delivered its historic ruling on the ‘right to be forgotten’. It related to the individual’s right to have content about them removed from the internet so that it can be ‘forgotten’ for good. According to Google’s Transparency Report, this has resulted in around 1,600,000 links being evaluated, 43% of which went on to be removed from the web. Though originally the ruling only applied to country specific sites like Google.fr and Google.co.uk, it’s been extended to Google.com and everyone living in the EU now has the right to be forgotten.

Is it possible to be forgotten on the internet?
As soon as you create a social media profile, sign up for an email address or join a group with an online presence, your digital life will begin. Even if you keep your internet activity to a minimum, you’re likely to leave digital footprints all over the web. Take a second to Google yourself, you may well be surprised by the number of results produced, with photos, articles, links and mentions all popping up in the search engine results page.

Though we now all technically have the right to be forgotten, it’s important to note that the ruling only applies to online information that’s inaccurate, that’s out of date or that’s no longer relevant. It’s not possible to remove content from the web just because it’s negative or unfavourable, and it’s very unlikely you’ll ever be able to remove all of the photos, mentions and links relating to you, no matter how hard you try.

What are your rights?
If you’ve come across information online that you think should be removed under the right to be forgotten, it’s important you know your rights. Firstly, you need to think about whether the URLs you want deleted fit the ruling. Are they old, inaccurate or no longer relevant? If so, you may have a case for having the links removed from the web.

For PR firms acting on behalf of a client, they also need to consider whether the information is in the public interest. Part of the judgement relating to the right to be forgotten says that content can only be removed if the impact on the individual’s privacy is greater than the public’s right to access it.

How to be forgotten on the internet
If you think you, or your client has a case, applying to have a link removed is actually pretty straightforward. Simply fill in an online application form and send it in. Google should take around four weeks to respond to your request. If it’s one of the four in ten that are successful, removal of the link could take a further three weeks.

An important ruling for celebrities, people in the public eye, private individuals and PR firms, the right to be forgotten could have a significant impact on the future of the web. Though it’s unlikely anyone with a digital life will ever remove themselves from the internet completely, it does give us the chance to redress the balance on the web.

 

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