Press articles and reports are far from being the main area targeted by Internet users concerned about their e-reputation. It appears that a number of aspects of the EU ‘Right to Be Forgotten’ still need clarifying.
Three months after the launch of their Forget.me platform, Reputation VIP, an online reputation management specialist based in the French city of Lyon, has produced a report analysing the extent to which the ‘right to be forgotten’ recognised recently by the European Court of Justice (ECJ) is being invoked in three European countries – Germany, France, and the UK. Following Google’s announcement that it has so far received over 70,000 requests for links to online information be taken down, Reputation VIP closely examined over 10,000 of these URLs in order to spot general trends, Reputation VIP, whose site provides an intermediary service for Internet users wishing to submit de-indexing requests to search engines, was particularly interested in assessing the impact to date on the press and other professional news media. The media industry has expressed its fears that mandatory de-indexing of Internet pages might seriously encroach on the freedom of the press by introducing a sort of bottom-up censorship by Internet users.
The main finding of the Reputation VIP study is that press organs have not been the main target for ‘right to be forgotten’ requests: a mere 3.6% of URLs submitted to Google for de-indexing are linked to news/information sites. Moreover, even among these few requests for de-indexing press sites, fully 93% were rejected by Google. So far, in fact, only a very small number of web articles have been de-linked.
However, the report does not go as far as to explain what sort of pages Google agreed to or refused to de-index and why. One may presume that the search engine giants’ reasons were similar to those given for so far refusing all demands for de-indexing Wikipedia pages – i.e., as the ECJ ruling puts it: in order to be deleted, an entry must be deemed “inadequate, irrelevant or no longer relevant, or excessive in relation to the purposes for which they were processed.” So what are the main websites targeted by de-indexing requests? Apart from advertising sites and directories, social networks account for a very large percentage of the URLs submitted for de-listing, with Facebook topping the list. It seems that Google is taking these requests very seriously: some 40% of the requests have been complied with. Here again, though, the report does not explain the main reasons behind the decisions to remove or retain given links.
The conclusion seems to be that ‘right to be forgotten’ is still in its infancy. It should be noted of course that requests so far are based on a recent ECJ ruling clarifying the interpretation of an existing European Union directive on Privacy. A court in Tokyo, Japan has also followed suit with a recent specific injunction on Google. Meanwhile, given that e-reputation has become a major factor in marketing, the whole issue of digital identity is now very much on the table. However, many questions remain about Google’s ‘right to be forgotten’ compliance system, especially in terms of the criteria being applied.