Are Americans About to Gain the ‘Right To Be Forgotten’?

The ‘right to be forgotten’ could be incredibly beneficial to people trying to maintain a good online reputation. While the concept has been common in EU law for the last decade, the right to be forgotten had been largely ignored in the USA. However, in March politicians in New York State brought forward a bill that could introduce the right to be forgotten to the USA.

New York Assembly Bill 5323 is a motion brought forward by David Weprin, while the simultaneous Senate Bill 4561 was proposed by Senator Tony Avella. The motions outline a citizen’s right to request certain personal information published about them to be removed from public circulation online.

There are fairly extensive clarifications surrounding what information can or can’t be forcibly removed. Basically, citizens can demand websites remove any information deemed to be “inaccurate”, “irrelevant”, or “inadequate”. If the website successfully argues the information is still relevant to public interest, then they won’t need to remove it.

This right to be forgotten could have a huge positive effect for people seeking to manage their online reputations. For example; a local newspaper article showing you winning a hotdog eating contest might make you look a little silly to potential employers, so, as it’s of no imperative interest to the general public, you could rightfully demand that the article be taken down. On a more serious note, individuals wrongfully convicted of crimes can also request old and inaccurate articles be removed.

For a country whose First Amendment pertains to freedom of speech and expression, it’s perhaps not surprising that the proposals have a number of detractors. Eugene Volokh, a writer for the Washington Post, has argued that the right to be forgotten is tantamount to government sponsored censorship, as it will be up to US politicians to decide what information is relevant or irrelevant to public interest.

Currently, the bill is still in its proposal phase and would only be applied to the New York State area. Considering that the top levels of US government are currently in the process of repealing a number of internet privacy laws, the wider implementation of right to be forgotten laws may not be likely.

Without laws enabling you to control what information is published about you online, the need for professional online reputation advice will become all the more imperative.

Exactly How Helpful Is Right to Be Forgotten EU Legislation?

Your reputation precedes you; particularly your online presence. If searching for you or your business online returns inaccurate or misleading results you’d prefer not to see, there are ways you can stop that information from being seen. In this article ReputationDefender will be looking at the right to be forgotten legislation and examine exactly how effective it has been at protecting the reputations of EU citizens.

What is the right to be forgotten?

In May 2014, the European Court of Justice made a landmark ruling, granting EU citizens the right to be forgotten. This groundbreaking piece of legislation gave citizens of the European Union the right to request that search engines remove links to online content returned via an online search of that person’s name.

Can I have anything I don’t like removed?

No. Appeals will not always be upheld; around 60% of removal requests have been rejected since the launch of the official request process. The EU ruling says that information does not have to be removed where such removal would interfere with the interests of the general public. So whilst the EU grants the right for private individuals to be forgotten, conversely it also grants the public the right to access information and ultimately to find you. The European Court of Justice states that its aim in implementing the legislation is to encourage search engines and government bodies to balance these rights against one another.

The right to be forgotten legislation applies to the EU only. This means that removals will only apply to European search engines; searches that take place in other countries may still turn up the ‘removed’ result.

What brought about this legislation?

The issue came to the fore when a Spanish man objected to Google search results relating to the auction of his property to repay debts he once owed to the state. The incident, which took place in 1998, was still being returned in Google search results over a decade later. The purpose for the auction being announced in the newspaper in the first place was simply to secure bidders, but with results being returned so long after the incident with any search of the man’s name, the Court deemed that his reputation was being damaged long after the reason for the story being made public had vanished.

Google has pledged to abide by the EU ruling, agreeing to remove content from all versions such as the .com site when viewed from the country where removal of the content was approved. Essentially, what this means is that where Google agrees to remove content about a person, the offending search results will no longer appear on any version of Google when searched for from the country of the complainant’s origin. Google’s pledge appears to have come in response to threats from the French data protection authority to impose substantial fines against Google if it failed to abide by the EU right to be forgotten ruling.

How do I apply?

To make a removal request, the European Court of Justice ruled that a person should approach Google or any other search engine.

Where the search engine fails to act upon the complaint and remove the offending material, new powers grant the complainant with the right to approach either a privacy regulator or the Courts in their EU country.

Aside from asking Google to remove negative search results, there are several other ways in which both private individuals and multi-national companies can help protect their online reputations.

What is the best way to prevent problems with my online reputation?

ReputationDefender and its parent company help over a million corporate and private clients worldwide to build and defend their online reputations. From global corporations to private individuals, ReputationDefender helps its customers to own their front page, and in doing so, reduces the potential damage caused by an online attack. Your first line of defense is being proactive and building a strong online presence in order that any criticism can be deflected.

An obvious place to start is building your own website, or for those who don’t have the time or expertise, engaging the services of a professional to do it for you. Taking advantage of specialist search engine optimization expertise will help your site’s content to feature highly in the Google search results, pushing any bad press down the pages where it’s less likely to be seen. Register your website with GooglePlus, Google My Business and Bing Places for Business to help give it more authority in search engine listings and hitch it your content up in the search results, forcing down any negativity or, better still, preventing it from ranking highly in search results in the first place.

ReputationDefender also recommend building up a strong online presence on social media sites. Take the time to build a Facebook page and post quality content consistently – you’ll not only improve the ranking of your approved content – but potentially build up a following for you and/or your business in the process.

There’s no point burying your head in the sand when it comes to negative online publicity. It could happen to you; indeed, you should expect it to. Building a great product or providing an excellent service is all well and good, but what is said on the internet is far beyond our control: someone could simply be having a bad day and decide to take it out on you or your business. Online reputation management is about more than promoting yourself online. Where criticism arises, by dealing with it in a calm, efficient and expedient manner, you can not only uphold your online reputation, but enhance it.

Image courtesy of MPD01605 via Creative Commons