Since May 2014, when the European Court of Justice issued its ruling that the EU’s citizens should be able to request that search engines such as Google and Bing do not return results that include links to pages that are considered to be private, the Right to Be Forgotten (RTBF) has been at the centre of heated controversy and debate.To the bemusement of the US, Europe – where memories of unrestricted access to data on individuals being abused by oppressive regimes still reverberate – is keen to guard its citizens’ personal information.
What does this mean for businesses?
While RTBF, which offers people a chance to hide some of their past online indiscretions from public scrutiny, may be welcomed by individuals, how much use does it have to businesses? Specifically, is it of value in terms of corporate reputation management? In certain cases, businesses and brands may find the RTBF to be of value, for example in the case of negative publicity attached to one of its employees. If the employee has been associated with dubious activity, for example, and that activity has no relation to his or her employment, that person may be able to request that his or her name is no longer linked to that information. However, as things stand at present, Google may decide to refuse the RTBF request, particularly in such cases as it deems that it is in the public interest to provide access to the information in question.
While RTBF may appear, on the face of it, to offer the answer to any unwanted information associated with a company’s employees, it is important to bear in mind that Google and other search engines that plan to comply with RTBF requests are not actually removing the pages containing the information, but only the links to those pages insofar as a search for the name of the individual in question is concerned. The information is still available to anyone who knows where to look for it. Moreover, RTBF is still being hotly debated and how it will evolve remains uncertain to say the least. In at least some cases, the best approach to managing unflattering information associated with a business may be to be open about it and to provide sufficient information to allow people to make up their own minds about whether it affects their perception of the business or not.