The Right to be Forgotten and the Best Way to Exercise it

The internet is very much intertwined with the lives of most people today. Every online action and interaction can be recorded, and a simple search of your name and basic details can bring out data that you didn’t even know was easily accessible on the internet.

It is helpful in data gathering if you want to learn more about someone, but it can be challenging to manage if you want to uphold your privacy online.

For individuals who want to remove their private information from the online sphere, there are ways to compel online data controllers to comply with your request. You have the right to remove the available data about you from online hosts and websites.

What is the right to be forgotten?

Right to be forgotten

The right to be forgotten has long been a topic of discussion in international circles. However, it wasn’t until 2014 when it was heavily publicized after a judgment from the EU Court of Justice was released. This judgment set a precedent for the right of erasure provision in the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR).

In essence, the right to be forgotten is all about the right of an individual to ask online hosts and data controllers to erase personal data regarding him or her without undue delay.

From signing up on Netflix to setting up a line for PayPal, you are always divulging sensitive private information online. A simple Google search of your name can even lead you to information that you didn’t think was available in the online public sphere.

With the right to be forgotten, you are given the opportunity to have your data deleted as long as you want it to be removed from any or all online platforms.

However, it is much more than just a simple request to an organization for data erasure. It also touches on the right of an individual to access their personal information and control or limit the dissemination if they wish to do so.

When does the right to be forgotten apply?

Just like any other right, the right to be forgotten is not absolute. Just because you want information about you deleted, doesn’t automatically mean that the company or controller hosting your data always has to comply.

Otherwise, there are various ways in which people can exploit the right for data erasure. Some of these include historical revisionism, fraud, and restraint on media, journalism, and freedom of speech, among others.

The right to be forgotten only applies if it meets any of the following criteria:

The subject no longer consents to the processing of the data.

The processing of any personal data is not allowed unless given permission by law or if the subject has consented to its processing. Consent should be freely given, and above all, it should be clear and informed.

Once the subject does not want their personal data to be used for any type of purpose (targeted advertisements, population sample, etc.), they should be able to withdraw their consent as easily as they gave it away.

There are significant errors in the data released.

It’s already a given that not all data available online are trustworthy. Sometimes, there’s no harm in letting it go. It can, however, have a negative impact on individuals, especially if the available data representing them online is incorrect.

If you can prove that the data being processed or publicized in online platforms are incorrect or harmful, you have the right to request for the removal of that data.

Such data not only hurts your reputation but also affects your employability and other opportunities as well. It’s better to be safe than sorry, and the right to be forgotten presents the chance for people to get rid of inaccurate or harmful personal information.

The private information is being stored by the controller unnecessarily.

If the private information about the subject is unnecessarily stored or is no longer relevant to the reason it was collected, to begin with, the subject can request the host/controller to remove the data.

Apart from these, this right also applies when:

  • the data belongs to a child,
  • the removal of the data is legally required,
  • the data was unlawfully processed, to begin with, or
  • the individual is objecting to the use of the data.

If the reason for the request for removal falls under any of these, the controller/host handling the data should delete it as soon as possible, preferably under a month. If the data in question is on public platforms, the organization or host/controller should take reasonable steps to inform other entities that process your data to take it down.

Who can take advantage of the right to be forgotten?

Search personal data

Not every entity has the right to be forgotten. As mentioned, there are many ways in which one can exploit this right. Additionally, not everyone is covered by the laws that govern this particular right. Here are some guidelines to check if you can take advantage of this right.

Are you a business or an individual?

Businesses, corporations, and other similar entities are not eligible for the right to be forgotten. Only individuals have this right.

Moreover, you can avail of it only if you are a resident of countries and territories in which this right is enforced, like the EU, Switzerland, Liechtenstein, Iceland, and Norway. Otherwise, you are not eligible to avail of this right.

Are you a public figure or a private individual?

There’s a fine line between a private person and a public figure, but there’s a line nonetheless. Politicians, famous actors and actresses, and other famous entertainers are public figures.

But for smalltime community mayors or people working in industries that can possibly catapult them into being a “public figure,” the line is not clear. Either way, once you have been cleared as a private individual, that’s the only way for you to be eligible for this particular right.

Will a simple search on search engines with your first and last name show the information you want to remove?

If the answer to this is no, then you might not be eligible to avail of the right to be forgotten. Additionally, even if you want to remove information about someone having the same name as you, it is not permitted under the guidelines governing this right.

Have you already made a request to search engines about the URLs you want to remove?

Note that if you already made a request, you are not permitted to resubmit it to the search engine. Make sure that you fill out your request without a mistake to make the process faster and easier.

If you think you meet the criteria, then you can try to contact the search engines to submit your request. Otherwise, you can try to contact the web host, contact the writer of the article, contact an agency specializing in reputation management, or take legal action.

How do you request the erasure of your personal data?

To process the right to be forgotten, you should complete a form on the website of the search engine where you want to have your data removed. Here are the steps to requesting for the removal of your data online:

1. Write the reason why you want to have your data removed.

In your request, you should write down the reason why you want to have your data removed. Make sure that your reason is compelling enough or presents direct harm to you personally or professionally.

2. Complete the request form of the search engines.

At the moment, only Bing and Google have available forms for the right to be forgotten. Other search engines could possibly follow suit in the coming years.

3. Provide a copy of your valid ID.

You should be able to prove that you are the individual concerned. Make sure to present a valid and official ID, preferably one that has the necessary information for easier recognition and identity verification.

4. Send your request to each search engine.

Once you have the requirements ready and forms filled out, you may submit your request to each search engine involved.

If your request didn’t work and you want to fix it, you can try to contact any data protection authority to contact these search engines on your behalf. If that still doesn’t work, you can try to file a legal action in your country.

Know about your right to be forgotten

As an individual, you should take advantage of this right, especially if there is something important, like your reputation or livelihood at stake. The information above should be a good enough briefer for the basics regarding this right.

It is important to note that the right to be forgotten does not apply to everyone, and it does have its limits. Get in touch with us with your queries about the right to be forgotten, and we might just be able to help.