What is the right to be forgotten? You would be forgiven for being a little baffled by this new Internet concept. After all, the Internet never forgets, does it?
It all started in Spain, where a Spanish man argued that Google’s retention of personal information relating to the auction of his house dating back to 1998 infringed his right to privacy and was continually damaging his reputation. He argued that all links relating to the auction should be removed from Google’s search results. Fortunately for him, the Court agreed.
So what is the right to be forgotten?
In May 2014 the European Court of Justice in Luxembourg made a landmark ruling introducing the new legal concept of the “right to be forgotten” on the web. Consequently, people now have the right to request search engine sites like Google to remove links to personal information, with Google being legally obligated to grant such a request if the relevant prerequisites are met. The ruling only compels Google to remove the link to the relevant information rather than the information itself.
The right to be forgotten only applies in circumstances where the information is “inaccurate, inadequate, irrelevant or excessive” for the purpose of processing data. Furthermore, information would only be removed if the impact on the individual’s privacy is greater than the public’s right to find it. Factors such as the antiquity of the information, the nature of the information and whether the information relates to a crime committed in the course of their professional capacity, can all help to determine whether a request is granted or refused. For instance, Google has already been inundated with “right to be forgotten requests”, including an individual who asked to have removed links relating to his dismissal for sexual crimes committed on the job, and another requesting 20 links relating to financial crimes committed in a professional capacity be removed. Both requests were refused.
What does this mean for “big data” companies like Google?
Big Internet search engines like Google thrive on being able to collect a mass amount of personal data on its users. Through many different online tracking mechanisms, Google is able to follow and record what their users are talking about. From requesting that people create a Google online account, to the introduction of Google Mail and their acquisition of the video-sharing website YouTube back in 2006, Google has more platforms than ever before to record as much data about their subjects as possible, and use that in order to deliver personalised Internet experiences that can cater to the individual’s needs. And this information is valuable!
Have you, for instance, ever wondered why you have Debenhams adverts popping up all around your computer screen regardless of what other website you’re on at the time? That’s because Google has tracked your history, has realised that you are a frequent visitor to the Debenhams website and has sold that information to Debenhams. Debenhams, with the help of Google, can now advertise their services on your computer screen all the time, even if you decide never to visit their website again. Google’s paid-for-advertising business is a multi-million pound industry, and personal data is the commodity.
But thanks to this new European court ruling, Google has had to make some drastic changes.
1. Change in Mind-Set
The whole rationale behind the “right to be forgotten” is the idea that people have a right to privacy, and thus have a right to control what kind of personal information is made available to the public. This right to privacy is largely a European concept, one that neither exists nor is understood in the United States. The freedom of expression and freedom of speech rights protected by the American constitution, does not allow for a right to privacy and certainly does not allow for people to have the power to erase information that is already publicly available. So this new ruling by the European Court, binding on Google because of its European subsidiaries, ensures that whether Google agree with it or not, they must follow it in order to avoid any punitive sanctions.
2. Change in Business Model
The right to be forgotten requires Google to change the way it uses big data. Google prospers because it is able to store a mass amount of data and personal information. With this ruling dictating that people can in effect hide parts of history from public viewing, Google now has to try and find a way to ensure that this new right does not interfere with their economic benefits and is not detrimental to their business of storing, utilising and selling valuable data. The good people at Google are nothing if not clever. They recently published an article showing the processes and data they have changed and/ or tweaked following the right to be forgotten ruling – thus gaining themselves some favourable publicity.
Moral of the story? Changes occur all the time, and some changes are fundamental enough to mess with the very foundation of a successful company: their business model. Changes can occur due to Political, Economical, Sociological, Technological, Legal and Environmental (PESTLE) reasons. Regardless, the ability to rise to the challenge and adapt so as to remain relevant, useful and competitive can never be underestimated.
Written by Ebony Ezekwesili
Ebony is a recent 2:1 law graduate from the University of East Anglia. Passionate about marketing and sports, she is currently writing a book on business transformation change lessons from the World Cup 2014. She is also a sports writer at ebonylovessports.blogspot.co.uk