Time to tidy up your online profile?

Judith Thompson

With more people than ever before furloughed, working from home, or having to take time out from their usual busy routines, it is not surprising that people have been checking their online profile. 

If you go onto an internet search engine (Google is by far the most widely used in the UK, but Bing and Yahoo also have a presence) and type in your name, do you see results that you wish weren't there?

There can be many reasons that unwanted search results can appear, including:

  • newspaper reports about a crime that you committed;
  • newspaper reports where you were the victim of a crime;
  • reports about a court case where you provided witness evidence;
  • reports about a court case involving a member of your family;
  • untrue or malicious statements published by someone trying to cause you harm;
  • publications about a job that you no longer do; or
  • reports about investigations you have been involved in.

If you find anything about you online which you want to remove, there are steps you can take.

How do I remove unwanted search results?

Since a ruling of the European Court of Justice in 2014, individuals who live in one of the EU member states have had the right to apply to internet search engines, requesting that the link between their name and certaini search results is broken. 

Each of the internet search engines has its own procedures for making applications to break links, and their application forms can be found online.

The different search engines have each designed their application process to work in slightly different ways, but they all have to consider the same criteria. The search engine should remove material if it is:

  • irrelevant;
  • outdated; or
  • otherwise inappropriate.

In England, these criteria have been widened slightly by a High Court decision in a case brought against Google.

The High Court said that where someone has committed a crime, but has led an otherwise blameless life, this should be taken into consideration by the search engine. 

What happens if an application is successful?

If an application for the right to be forgotten is approved by the search engine, then the results will disappear from a search of the applicant's name fairly quickly - usually within a few days.

The results will be removed from Google in your own country as well as the different versions of Google throughout the EU. The results will also be removed from google.com, as long as the search is carried out within the EU - Google uses geotracking software to ensure that this is the case. 

The underlying material will not be removed. For example, if the application relates to an article published online by a local paper, the publication will still be there. However, it will not be found by the search engine if someone searches your name. 

Why does Google refuse Right to be Forgotten applications?

There can be many reasons for an application to be rejected, and we use Google as an example in this article as it is the search engine with by far the most traffic in England. 

Common reasons for rejection of applications is:

  • the material being published is in the public interest;
  • not sufficient time has passed since the crime being committed;
  • the applicant plays a role in public life and therefore the public should have access to information about them; and
  • no harm is being caused to the applicant by the publication.

Can I appeal Google's decision not to grant me the right to be forgotten?

The good news is that you do have a right of appeal. In England, you can appeal to the Information Commissioner's Office.

The ICO will consider the material according to slightly different criteria and will look in more detail at the effect of the publication upon the applicant, and data protection issues. 

Appeals to the ICO are more involved, and they take longer to be dealt with. The ICO has a backlog of several months. 

If the appeal is successful, the ICO will request the removal of the material from search results, and in the vast majority of cases, the search engine will comply with the ICO's request. 

What should I do next?

If you want to make an application to Google for the right to be forgotten, or if you have already made an application and want to appeal Google's decision to the ICO, then we can help. 

You can either use our online application form which appears below, or you can contact us to have a discussion with a solicitor about how we can help.