Europe rules Google must honour “right to be forgotten”. Where does this leave brands?


By Chris Lee

European Court of Justice (ECJ) ruled this month that Google must delete “inadequate, irrelevant or no longer relevant” data from search results upon request from a member of the public. Communications specialists have told NMK that the so-called “right to be forgotten” ruling could prove unworkable.

The Guardian reported that European Union (EU) justice commissioner, Viviane Reding, said the decision “confirms the need to bring today’s data protection rules from the ‘digital stone age’ into today’s modern computing world”.

Google’s executive chairman contested the verdict, saying: “A simple way of understanding what happened here is that you have a collision between a right to be forgotten and a right to know. From Google’s perspective that’s a balance. Google believes, having looked at the decision which is binding, that the balance that was struck was wrong.”

Ruling “opens can of words” for communications industry

The ECJ’s ruling not only makes for an unrealistic web, but also “opens a can of worms” on the entire communications industry, according to James Thomlinson, partner and managing director of digital consultancy Bell Pottinger Wired.

“While the ruling represents fantastic news for the individual, it will come at significant cost to Google and other major content providers as they prepare to deal with increased customer requests and areas of uncertainty,” Thomlinson told NMK.

Thomlinson argues that the “lack of clarity” as he sees it from the ECJ on relevancy of results and whether or not this ruling applies to individuals in companies or even an entire brand’s reputation, will “have lawyers up and down the country rubbing their hands in glee”.

He added: “From a PR’s perspective very little changes. Having fewer, less relevant results in Google will no doubt be beneficial to a client’s reputation, but it is no substitute for ensuring regular compelling and shareable content is readily available online.”

Win for reputation management

Stephen Waddington, European digital and social media director for PR firm Ketchum and current president of the Chartered Institute of Public Relations (CIPR), believes that the ruling is a win for reputation management but may ultimately prove “unworkable”.

“The new ruling is far more wide ranging and applies across the European Union. It will make it far more difficult to find delisted content. As such it strikes at the principle of free speech and the democracy of the Internet,” Waddington argued. “And yet the Europe Court of Justice ruling is a cause for celebration for anyone in the online reputation management business seeking to manage an individual’s digital footprint.”

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