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The Right to Be Forgotten – When Do Privacy Rights Begin and End on Google?

Updated on September 11, 2018
RJ Schwartz profile image

I try to present technical issues in a way that people can easily understand them.

Many people have found themselves in compromising positions, some even losing their current status or employment, due to something they posted, made comments on, or liked on one of the many social media sites across the internet. Unlike word of mouth, a digital footprint can remain in existence forever; or at least that what it seems like. Skeptics can be easily shown digital trails which demonstrate poor choices in past comments, repeated likes on content of questionable nature, and a host of other transgressions from the past. Prominent CEO’s, politicians, and Hollywood icons have been exposed and removed from their positions due to something from their past resurfacing. Up until just recently, most people have come to the understanding that things on-line are permanent; or are they?

Rulings Support the Right of Individuals

In a story which quietly slipped through the airwaves, internet behemoth Google, lost a landmark High Court case in Europe to an individual who wanted information about a previous conviction removed from the public on-line record. In April, a businessman who had been convicted of a low-level crime and spent six months behind bars more than a decade ago, petitioned the court to have any link to his previous crime “delisted.” He was quoted as saying, “The crime and punishment information has become out of date, irrelevant and of no sufficient legitimate interest to users of Google Search to justify its continued availability, so that an appropriate delisting order should be made.” This case along with one other with similar circumstances appears to be a direct challenge to the assumption that the internet never forgets. It’s also likely that more will follow based upon this ruling.

The two cases were both brought forward utilizing the data protection law for misuse of private information. Over 600,000 requests to have information removed from the internet have been made to Google since this ruling. The most affected website for requests is Facebook. The "Right to be Forgotten" could have far reaching consequences for all search-engine providers across Europe should this practice become more prevalent. Sites would be banned from sharing the personal information of users who have petitioned to have it expunged. Social media sites are likely to be the most affected and the means to enforce the rule could be quite costly.

The Bigger Picture and the Future of Search Engines in Europe

Today, European Union judges are starting hearings that will include stakeholders from multiple entities and companies, as well as attorneys from several nations representing their data protection groups. The proceedings will have worldwide ramifications, which will force search engines to delist requested information in Europe and subject them to fines for failure to comply. Google is fighting against any attempt to limit on-line content by a third party. It’s strange that Google says one nation should not be permitted to impose their rules on any other nation or the rest of the world when they themselves already have demonstrated that they will happily limit content to nations as part of an agreement to be able to do business in them. They are also happy to create algorithms that filter content according to their secret ideals. They just don’t want anyone else to have the same power as they have.


It’s very likely that this case will take a long time to decide, especially with so many potential stakeholders that could testify. Yet, with precedent already set, the giant internet companies will have a difficult time in demonstrating to the High Court reasons why they see the need to keep old or outdated information available on-line. As of now, their only defense has been that they claim the public, “has a right to know any and all public information.” At least whatever information they deem important.

© 2018 Ralph Schwartz


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