The right to be forgotten

The internet is such that information which is posted online is likely to stay there forever in some form and be accessible by way of a Google or other search engines. If the information relates to something that you have said or done many years ago, you will not be happy with this. You want it forgotten and to move on. You do not want something unfortunate in your past to be publicly available and to be held against you to the end of time.

It can be unfair for your name to be linked with indiscretions or unfortunate incidents from your past, years after the event, and the European Union has agreed in a case brought by a Spanish man, whose house house had been repossessed many years previously. In this case, the European Court of Justice told Google that they were the ‘controller’ of personal data, and that therefore it was obliged to remove ‘inaccurate, inadequate, irrelevant or excessive’ personal data, if the individual to whom it related asked them to do so. As a consequence of this ruling, Google and other search engines have been forced to hide certain search results, if an applicant has successfully applied for them to do so.

Google have now received over a quarter of a million requests to remove pages from search results and have removed just under half of them. That doesn’t mean that the pages necessarily disappear from the search results, however. There can be a number of entries for a story and, although it may disappear from one search, it could still show up in other searches.

The problem is that removal is in the hands of Google. The EU Court case provided no real direction or criteria to for when an application to remove should be allowed, and it is left to Google and the search engines to decide whether or not they should remove search results. This is not satisfactory, as Google are in the business of displaying information and are hardly enthusiastic about removing it.

A yet further problem is sites which have chosen to oppose the ruling by posting new pages with identical information to that removed. A person affected would then have to make a further application for these pages to be removed. Over and above this there are sites which publish lists of removed pages with what they claim as new news. Although Google have been ordered to remove any sites indexing removed pages, this has only led to new pages referring to the removals. And so it goes on.

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