What to Remember About 'The Right to be Forgotten'

The EU recently ruled against Google on the 'Right to be Forgotten' but is there trouble on the horizon or is this just a storm in a teacup?

Internet regulation. A minefield if ever there was one.

The fallout from the EU ruling against Google on the so called ‘right to be forgotten’ has proven that this remains a hugely emotive topic. And so it should be, given the prominence of the web in our modern lives.

This latest round of debate has been sparked by a European Union court ruling in favour of a Spanish man who claimed his privacy had been infringed when a notice of his home being repossessed was indexed by the search engine.

Google has now placed a form online through which requests for ‘inadequate, irrelevant or no longer relevant’ pages to be removed from search results can be submitted. Reportedly, more than 12,000 forms were submitted on day one, with requests now believed to total over 50,000.

Interestingly, this information will only be removed from search results delivered by Google’s European sites. It will still be indexed by all others, including Google.com, where the First Amendment to the US Constitution, guaranteeing free speech, means this kind of ruling would not be possible.

Where results have been altered, Google plans to alert users with a notice at the bottom of the page, similar to what can be seen if you search ‘The Beatles MP3’.

So, what impact could this have on search engine marketing on Google?

On the face of it, there is nothing to suggest that the quality or relevance of the organic or paid search results will be hugely impacted by this, at least not from a marketing perspective. According to Google chief executive Larry Page, nearly a third of requests relate to fraud while roughly 20 per cent relate to involvement in serious crime, suggesting that the majority of requests relate to individuals.

What this does potentially mean however is boom time for reputation management companies. Indeed, the ads returned as a result of a search for ‘right to be forgotten’ on Google tells you all you need to know about that.

And whilst all press is good press (apart from the stuff you want forever erased from the internet!) no story in recent memory has resulted in such a wide reaching debate on the importance of online reputation.

Google are not bound to action every request and say they will seek to strike a balance between the right to privacy and public interest – wording very similar to that used in defamation law. This should prevent businesses using this ruling to have unfavourable information removed from the search results. For example, if they have been penalised by an industry watchdog in the past, this would surely still be considered to be in the public interest.

And with stories now circulating that a similar ruling could be passed in Hong Kong, this is definitely a story that’s far from finished.

By David Graham, PPC Consultant