What Is This "Right To Be Forgotten" Thing All About?

Right to be forgotten
What is this new "Right to be forgotten" that everyone seems to be talking about all of a sudden? Well, earlier this month, Europe's top court ruled that people can ask Internet search engines to remove links to content that is inadequate, irrelevant or could be deemed to infringe on their right to privacy. In response to this ruling that sent shock waves through the internet industry, Google has created a portal where it is handling all such requests from residents in Europe.

What is the right to be forgotten?

The internet is a blessing for many, but it can also be a curse for some. Not all publicity is good publicity, and there might be certain groups of people who'd rather that others don't look them up on the internet. A celebrity who behaved badly, or a business with bad reviews. Even someone convicted of robbery, or maybe just someone who wants to keep their identity to themselves.

For such people, a new ruling was passed by the said European court. This ruling allows people to request search engines, and have them take down certain URLs connected with their identity, not physically, but in search results - with a ranking drop. Of course a whole website cannot be shut down on the mere whims of someone.

How does it work?

In response to this ruling, Google has created a website that lets European residents list Web addresses that they want removed from search results on the resident's name. The people must list their names and email addresses, supply photo identification, explain how each linked page is related to them and why the search result is "irrelevant, outdated, or otherwise inappropriate."

Each request will be reviewed by an expert panel at Google, and if a site does seem to violate the privacy of the individual, it'll be dropped in search rankings. However, this will only happen for Google search inside the European Union and an additional four countries, which include Norway and Switzerland. Google elsewhere will still show the same search results.
"The court's ruling requires Google to make difficult judgments about an individual's right to be forgotten and the public's right to know," a Google spokesman said. He said Google will work with data-protection authorities and others to implement the ruling.
Google has already received thousands of requests from European residents, asking for links about them to be removed. The company hasn't yet removed links, but is developing policies and processes to do so.

What it means for website owners?

Although this ruling interferes with the public's right to know things, there's little to nothing anyone can do about it. So the advice for website owners is simple. If you're getting the bulk of your traffic from Europe, then it is best to stay away from content that might seen as an invasion of privacy by some. This could include jokes about a politician, a meme about a celebrity, and so on.

Although there's no guarantee that Google will actually take down a URL, you should not, in any case, add photos of the individual(s) in question, because that'll make it very easy for Google to decide against you.

We don't know yet the extent of the impact a ranking drop will have on a website. It could only be limited to a specific page, but don't take my word for it. Too many page-level ranking drops could lead to an overall domain-level penalty, as Google and other search engines will try to shut out website that are constantly creating questionable content. But then again, Google hasn't started accepting or rejecting the requests, so only time will tell what overall impact this will have. In the meantime, it's better to be safe than be sorry!

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