What you need to remember about the ‘right to be forgotten’
It’s amazing what you can find out online these day. You can use the internet to find out everything there is to know about a topic, business or person.
Of course, this is great from a marketing point of view, because it gives brands an opportunity to connect with consumers on an equal playing field.
But it also comes with a few disadvantages, the main one being that everything you do online leaves a digital trail.
I’m sure you’ve heard all sorts of different tales about people being fired for something they posted online, or businesses going under because of a few negative reviews.
This brings up the important question – should people be able to control what is being said about them online?
In order to put some boundaries in place, the European Union passed a law last month allowing its citizens the ‘right to be forgotten’ – meaning they can request search engines to remove (but not delete) information about them.
Last week Google created an online form for users wanting something removed, subsequently opening up the floodgates to thousands of requests by European citizens.
Google has received over 41,000 requests so far, according to the Wall Street Journal.
The problem first arose in the European law courts back in 2010 when a Spanish man, Mario Costeja González, wanted to remove an auction listing of his repossessed home from Google. This dated back over a decade ago, according to the European Commission.
As a result of the complaint, and many more like it, on May 14, 2014 the European Union court ruled that search engines must operate under European law and acknowledge the already existing “1995 Data Protection Directive” law.
The court deemed search engines are responsible for the personal data they provide, and act as “data controllers”.
Therefore, individuals now have the right to ask search engines to remove links to personal information about them that is thought to be “inaccurate, inadequate, irrelevant or excessive”.
In California there is a similar law called the ‘eraser bill’, which allows youth under the age of 18 to remove old posts from social networking sites (although most sites already allow this).
This ruling is great for people wanting to separate themselves from their shady past, or remove something that isn’t true, but it also poses some serious censorship issues.
Eventually, this could lead to people controlling how search engines present them, just as they would on their own Facebook account.
To make things fairer, the European court pointed out that it should be a case-by-case assessment, and it needs to be balanced with other laws such as the right to freedom of expression.
However, this means Google gets to decide for itself what requests they want to grant.
“The court’s ruling requires Google to make difficult judgements about an individual’s right to be forgotten and the public’s right to know,” said a Google spokesperson.
In April alone, Australians spent 39.9 billion minutes online, according to IAB Australia, and every minute of this was recorded.
In Australia our defamation law protects us from false accusations that are deemed damaging to our reputations, but similar issues to what’s happening right now in Europe are bound to arise.
Posted by Dylan Brown