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What You Need to Know About the “Right To Be Forgotten” Ruling

Saturday, July 19th, 2014

The European Union recently delivered a landmark ruling that makes it mandatory for search engines (particularly Google) and social networking services to comply with the “Right To Be Forgotten” requests from online users. The judgment is the result of a case filed by a Spanish lawyer, Mario Costeja González, who complained that Google is displaying outdated and irrelevant information about an auction that he himself posted in a Spanish newspaper more than 15 years ago. Mario requested both the newspaper and Google to delete or hide the damaging information but when they refused to comply, he filed a case with the higher authorities. As a result of the ruling, Google is receiving thousands of requests per day from Europeans who want their personal data to be erased from the search results.

Pros and Cons of “Right To Be Forgotten” Ruling

The biggest advantage of the “Right To Be Forgotten” ruling is that it allows individuals to determine what kind of personal information they want to share with the outside world. Since Google uses a complex algorithm to display its search results, outdated information about the personal life of a person may rank at the top of the search results while the latest information may not get displayed at all. As you can imagine, this may lead damaged reputations and ruined careers since a lot of background check companies rely on the search engines to research more about people. The ruling would also allow people to hide search results that contain sensitive data (for instance, medical records, tax reports, address, email address, telephone numbers etc.). So, it wouldn’t be wrong to say that the ruling makes it easy for an average internet user to control his privacy on the internet.

On the downside, the ruling may be used by criminals to erase their criminal records from the search results. Google has revealed that it has already received requests from criminals and politicians who want the search engine to stop displaying results about their shady past. Also, the ruling would force Google to display one set of results in Europe and another set for the rest of the world causing information discrepancy.

Is It Possible To Erase Your Digital Past After The Ruling?

It is important to understand how “Right To Be Forgotten” works to understand its implications. While the judgment makes it mandatory for the search engines to comply with the removal requests, it does not direct the sites that published the information on the internet to delete those results. Even in the case of Mario Costeja González, the newspaper could not be forced to delete the information since it is protected by the Press Act. So essentially, you are merely deleting the links to your personal information, not the information itself! Your personal information would still be available on the internet AFTER Google stops displaying results that contain the information.

Needless to say, the ruling does not offer total privacy on the net since it is still possible to dig information about others by using a different search or a local search engine. The ruling is also ineffective against archival services that automatically archive online data. To conclude, the ruling would prevent your personal data from getting displayed prominently in the search results but it does not guarantee that the data would be wiped off from the internet.

July 19, 2014

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