The right to be forgotten – what does it mean?
When the European Court of Justice ruled that people should have ‘the right to be forgotten’ it unearthed a complete overhaul of the way the search engine giant Google indexes the internet.
The ruling was sparked by a complaint from a man in Spain, who claimed to the Spanish data-protection agency that an auction notice of his repossessed home appeared in Google’s search results and infringed his privacy, damaging his credit history.
While the ruling is deemed a success for personal data protection, it has created great interest among those in online reputation management. Businesses could be able to erase traces of their digital past.
It doesn’t take a genius to work out that this is a major headache for Google. If one specific case in Spain could play such a heavy role in this ruling, there’s a possibility that the search engine will face an influx of requests to take information down following the decision.
By way of example, we could see a business convicted of professional negligence, a hotel with a negative online review and a construction firm breaching health and safety rules trying to remove related information online and, in the process, make it like the incidents never happened.
How requests for content to be removed can be enforced is a topic of discussion as there is a need for a process of investigation to validate and authorise such takedown requests.
What this ruling won’t do is remove the information from the web permanently. The ruling only forces Google to remove the link to the information, which means the data itself is still out there online.
There is already a major lack of clarity when it comes to free speech and the internet. Over the last 12 months we have seen numerous high profile cases worth noting. Sally Bercow’s defamation of the Tory peer Lord McAlpine by falsely suggesting on Twitter that he was a paedophile led to a six-month legal saga.
The Cabinet Office has also been questioned over dubious Wikipedia edits carried out from the secure Government computer network.
It’s now down to the legal experts to try to confirm how to apply the principle of freedom of information.
One thing’s for certain. The clamour over this ruling reminds everyone just how much influence the internet has over the reputation of businesses and individuals.