Data Blog #1. Getting Drunk and ending up in Paris; The Right to be Forgotten.


Remember the story about a young English man that got drunk and woke up in Paris? His name was Luke Harding, Google him, ‘Luke Harding Paris’, you’ll find all the information you need concerning his little nightly escapade. But imagine that, one day, this boy wants to get a real job. After his initial interview they do a simple background check and voilà; he’s the guy that got drunk and woke up in Paris! This could potentially affect his chances of getting the job.

This kind of case falls within the issue of the Right to be Forgotten. What exactly does ‘the Right to be Forgotten’ entail? It concerns search results (listings) on third party search engines that operate within the EU (such as Google and Yahoo) that might breach your right to privacy or data protection. It can happen that, when you Google yourself, information pops up that you would rather not have potential employers or other people know. The EU court stated that if these listings are irrelevant, inaccurate, inadequate or excessive you have the right to request removal of such listing. However, the Right to be Forgotten is not absolute. This means that if your request for removal falls within one of those categories it will not automatically be deleted; the assessment should be carefully weighed, taking into account your right to privacy and data protection, but also the media’s freedom of expression and general public interest criteria.

So imagine you’re Luke Harding and you don’t want your future employers to find out about the time you made the front page, how do you go about it? In such a case you contact the search engine or original webmaster and ask them to delete the listing from the search results (Google actually has a separate form for this). The search engine assesses on a case-by-case basis whether your demand is valid and then makes a decision. If the search engine denies your request to delete the listing you will be able to go to your national data protection supervisory authority or the national courts to file a complaint. The new data protection regulation states that breaches of the Right to be Forgotten can result in fines up to 2% of the worldwide turnover of that company (for Google that would be over 1 billion USD)!

However, you should keep in mind that if the search engine deletes your listing the article will still remain on the original webpage. So if a newspaper published an article, the Right to be Forgotten allows you to request Google to delete the reference to it, but it does not require the newspaper to delete the article. The Right to be Forgotten makes it more difficult for information to be found, but I guess if you didn’t want anyone to find out you shouldn’t have gotten drunk and ended up in Paris in the first place. For a factsheet concerning the issue click here.

How does S2M do it? You can find your S2M profile in Google searches. If you delete your profile other users will no longer be able to find you in the database, but your profile will still pop up on Google results. When you delete your S2M profile the page will show up as a ‘404-error’ page. Gradually Google will learn that the page is no longer in use, but this takes time. Until that time comes people will still be able to see that you had a profile at S2M, and keywords that you listed in your profile. Although it is difficult to imagine that this data is by any means severely irrelevant, inaccurate, inadequate or excessive, it would be possible for you to request the removal of the listing. It has never happened before, but if it ever does I will let you know how things go from there!

For a recent update concerning Google and the Right to be Forgotten click here .