Personal Reputation Online

This week the European Court of Human Justice ruled that Google must uphold the ‘right to be forgotten’ in certain cases where users request the search engine remove information about them from the search results. What does this mean for online reputation management going forward?

Mario Costeja Gonzalez, a Spanish citizen complained that a search for his name on Google provided links to newspaper articles dating back 16 years that chronicled the sale of a property to recover money owed.

The EU’s highest court ruled against Google, upholding the complaint and saying that links to “irrelevant” and outdated data should be removed upon request. Since this is the highest EU court, Google cannot appeal the ruling.

This ruling provides users with a right to be forgotten, which means that you could now be eligible to remove irrelevant and/or outdated information if you should request to do so. What could this mean going for forward for online reputation management?

Igniyte Director Caroline Skipsey Comments on the right to be forgotten

“Any ruling that helps individuals manage the removal of defamatory or untrue content is welcomed”

Find out how Igniyte can help you with the right to be forgotten ruling.

Igniyte works with individuals, brands and companies  helping people overcome defamatory comments that rank for them online. Large companies have the budget to overcome negative content ranking in the search results – they do this through optimising their digital assets (websites, social and business profiles) and through PR exposure. They also have access to lawyers and consultants for trickier pieces of content. But they’re still struggling with content that they’d rather not be there… but this has always been the case with press and publicity. Companies and people in the public eye will always try to control what is said about them both in the online and offline worlds.

However, where individuals face out-dated or defamatory comments – the process to have things removed from the search results can be unclear. They’re often left with untrue comments and spiteful remarks available for all to read, be that on social media, on press or on individual blogs.

The ruling is interesting in the following ways:-

1) The internet is generally not policed. Anyone can write anything about anyone. Whilst authoritative websites (newspapers, company websites etc.) can police the content on their own sites, in line with relevant legislation… on the whole commentary is free across social profiles. Building websites and blogs is quick and easy – so malicious sites and trolling is on the increase. Is Google responsible for all content online? Can individuals choose not to have any information about them rank online?

2) Google never really intended to be a publisher. The infrastructure of the internet has been built without consideration to international legislation guiding content online. With approximately 90% of searches made online through Googles search engine – the ruling further places Google towards a role of international content police. Requests through their removal service are rising rapidly, but ultimately the sites and hosts of the actual content should be under pressure too.

3) News – Newspapers and related information websites such as the BBC, Wikipedia etc. have been given high ranking powers by Google. But what makes a five year old press article rank above a more recent article on a website of lesser authority in the eyes of Google? The right to be forgotten goes against the right for the public to be able to read historical information of a subject/topic, individual or company. I’m not sure anyone in the world could give a balanced opinion of a search term and whilst the current Google algorithm results in a mixture of sources being ranked, checking on the reliability of content shown can’t be done with robots or resourced by real people.

4) The ruling shows the need for further legislation tailored to content published online. The establishments that can remove the content from source are the Hosting companies. Google (and the other search engines such as Yahoo and Bing) can only remove from their search results – leaving the content very much online.