All About ‘Right To Be Forgotten‘ (RTBF)

According to ‘Right To Be Forgotten’ (RTBF) – a ruling by European Union Court of Justice (EUCJ) law, a person can approach search engines (Google, Bing and Yahoo) and ask them to remove all the negative links appearing on SERPs (search engine results pages) that are irrelevant, outdated and inaccurate associated with his/her name. This law only applies to links that are related to individual’s name.

If search engines fail to remove links even if they are irrelevant , outdated and inaccurate, they (search engines) have to pay 2% of their annual revenue to the person as penalty.

A brief history
It all started in Jan 2012, when European Union Court of Justice (EUCJ) proposed ‘Right to be forgotten’ – individual’s private data protection. But it was kept on hold as Google and anti-censor campaign warned the danger of allowing people to erase their past. It came up again with Mr. Costeja Gonzalez (Spain citizen), who filed a petition against search engines to remove the links to two newspaper articles that wrote about his debts that are no longer relevant.

Viviane Reding, EU Justice Commissioner of European Union Court of Justice (EUCJ) had ruled out ‘Right to be forgotten‘ on 13th May 2014 reinforcing privacy protection of individuals in EU.

Conflict of views: Google and others against EUCJ ruling

  • Google opined that the ruling is ‘dissapointing and they need time to analyze the implications’
  • This has became a more debated topic in the first few weeks as Google and EUCJ had different view on private data protection and public interest
    • EUCJ emphasize more on the privacy of the individual
    • Google emphasize is more in the interest of public than individual privacy protection
  • According to Jimmy Wales, founder of Wikipedia “There is no ‘right to be forgotten’ – there is apparently a ‘right’ in Europe to censor some information that you don’t like

What it is to you?
It applies only to the citizens of European Union country (including the United Kingdom). You can approach search engines and ask them to remove the negative links if they are outdated and no more relevant.

This will be a good opportunity to people who had bad or unpleasant past and regret now or don’t want it to be known to world.

What it is to search engines?
RTBF applies to all search engines that operate in Europe like Google, Yahoo and Bing. But, as Google has more than 90% market share in Europe, more pressure is on Google.

How Google is dealing with it?
Soon after the ruling, Google received thousands of requests from people. It received 12,000 requests within 24 hours after ruling and till date it received 10,000 requests per day. But Google’s representatives say they will remove links only when the impact of the negative links is more on individual’s private life than on public right to know it. According to Google’s co-founder Larry Page, most requests are related to fraud/scam, arrests/convictions for crime, child pornography, etc.

Google introduced a web form in the last week of May where people can go and send their request to remove the negative links. They have to list out all the links that they want to be removed with 1000 character text for every link to justify why it is outdated, irrelevant or inaccurate (as per RTBF).

Google will not remove links permanently from the web. It only removes links from that countries’ Google pages and not even from People outside EU can still see the links on SERPs of non-EU Google pages.

Google recently started processing the requests and is removing links. It has removed the negative links of Mr. Gonzalez, with whom it all started. It is showing disclosure text ‘the links are removed under European data protection law‘ at the bottom of SERPs.

Major drawback of RTBF
There is a major drawback of RTBF. At times, there are situations where people need to know the background information of a person. For example, if a person is a politician or doctor or teacher, etc., people need to know the background information of that person. Suppose he approaches search engines and erase his past, then people will never know about him and cannot take right decision. In such cases, right to know about the person is superior than right to be forgotten

What can we expect in the future?

  • In future, we can expect Google to speed up and process for the requests that it will receive. However, links will be removed only after manually assessing and confirm that they are irrelevant or outdated or inaccurate.
  • We can also expect advent of companies that provide RTBF service to request search engines for removal of links. But be cautious, it is better to go with the company that will customize the solution for you and source all the links associated with your name without missing any negative links.
  • We may also see Yahoo and Bing search engines build similar systems where people can make request to remove links from their SERPs.
  • No surprise if any other country comes up with similar ruling in future.

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