The Ultimate Guide to EU’s Right To Be Forgotten

Brook Zimmatore | July 8, 2014


The EU’s new law granting people a ‘right to be forgotten’ is censoring the internet, paving new ways to remove negative information, and allowing criminals to make their histories disappear. The verdict of the law requires Google to remove links redirecting to information about them.

The recent inclusion of the Google webform for users to request removal of data follows a European Court ruling earlier in the month stating that Google must adhere to a ‘right to be forgotten’ law. It requires Google to remove outdated and irrelevant information that breaks the EU privacy order concerning the processing of personal data.

And people have already started to take advantage. A report by Tech Dirt reveals that Google has received a plethora of requests from individuals who want embarrassing stories about them removed permanently.

VentureBeat detailed recently that the very purpose of the law was to hide content that violates the privacy of individuals. The intentions of the law are effectively void, because for every post removed, a new post appears. And the act of censorship is going to rattle journalism.

Google itself is interpreting that the law is going to upset journalism; the company is far from embracing the court’s ruling. Media lecturer at the University of East Anglina has shared similar views in a post titled “Are Google intentionally overreacting to the Right to be Forgotten?”

They’re trying to say, I think, ‘you know, we were right! This ruling means censorship! This is dangerous!’ They’re also trying to get journalists like James Ball and Robert Peston to be on their side, not on the side of the CJEU – and in Ball’s case, at least, they seem to be succeeding to an extent.

Nevertheless, Google isn’t shy about making changes to its search results in the EU – the search engine giant added a disclaimer saying the results ‘may have been removed’ even if they are still there.

The actual removal process, however, is not as simple as making Google a request to take down a link and have it removed. The company has taken steps to highlight the stories people want to disappear one last time by notifying websites that their article has been delinked. A removal request by posted by BBC as follows:

Notice of removal from Google Search: we regret to inform you that we are no longer able to show the following pages from your website in response to certain searches on European versions of Google.

BBC economics editor Robert Peston said that Stan O’Neil, an American business executive mentioned in BBC’s article, may have requested the removal, but later added that Google searches about his name still led to the blog post, implying that the request may have been made by someone from the comments section of the post. Also, the argument that the law is being used to censor the past of noteworthy individuals holds little or no value.

As it stands, it is unclear how Google will proceed, but Reuters cited Google informing that “this is a new and evolving process for us. We’ll continue to listen to feedback and will also work with data protection authorities and others as we comply with the ruling.”

Do you qualify for the ‘right to be forgotten’?

The new ‘right to be forgotten’ form requires people to select one of the 28 EU Countries, or Norway, Switzerland, Iceland and Liechtenstein. The form allows an individual or a representative to file a request, and requires photo ID of the individual the request is being filed for. So, even a representative needs to submit proof for validation.

Individuals from the listed countries can use the form to list the name they want results to be removed for, but a single name qualifies. So if you are known as both ‘Michael Dean’ and ‘Mike Dean’, the form will let you only pick one of the names; both can’t be indicated. However, you can resubmit the same information for other variations (if any) of your name.

The form will then ask you to list one or more URLs you want removed, and you have to provide reasoning about why you want them removed. Apparently, you have to provide sound explanation why each link is ‘irrelevant, outdated, or otherwise inappropriate,’ – this goes back to the original ruling about why material is to be removed. After submission of the form, Google sends the following response:

Thanks for reaching out to us!
We have received your legal request. We are currently building our system for removing links from our search results according to EU data protection law. In the meantime, your message is in our queue. Once we have our system up and running, we’ll process your request as quickly as our workload permits.
Regards, The Google Team

Will your request get removed? It will, if it is complete and provides a reasonable explanation why a listing is irrelevant, outdated or inappropriate in your view. The requests will be reviewed on a case-by-case basis and rejected requests will be notified. Individuals will also be told they can get in touch with the data protection agency in their country in case of removal. Google shared some fresh stats related to these requests to the Financial Times. Some of the removal requests involved a business with bad reviews and a politician with defamed content.

Bottom line

Google doesn’t like ECJ ruling, and the odd thing is it doesn’t have to complete all the requests received through its system. It could just refer it to information commission or the data protection agency in each relevant country, or reject every claim and ask people to go to court. In both cases, it would still comply with the law.

Seemingly, the process could be cumbersome for corporations, institutions and businesses looking to remove negative information. Solutions like Massive’s online defamation services could be a better option when it comes to dealing with each unique scenario, regardless of the validity of the freedom of speech argument.

CEO / Co-Founder
Brook Zimmatore is the Co-Founder & CEO at Massive.