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Reputation management and the Right to be Forgotten revisited

In an age where anybody's name is searchable at the drop of a hat and a company's online reputation is vital, damaging press or social media coverage can present a serious issue both for individuals and the companies that they work for.

If a quick Google search of your name produces a large volume of negative or damaging information about you this can have a drastic impact on your reputation and that of your own personal business or the business that you work for.

The Right to be Forgotten

The Right of Erasure, commonly known as the “Right to be Forgotten” has been codified in Article 17 of the GDPR and is now a well-known legal remedy. While there is some debate around how this may ultimately be impacted by Brexit (it is not clear that specific digital rights, such as the Right to be Forgotten, will be upheld by the UK in the longer term), for the time being the Right remains codified in the GDPR.

The Right affords data subjects the ability to request data controllers to cease processing their personal data in some circumstances.

In practice, this allows individuals to compel a search engine like Google to delist URLs which appear as search results against their name where that information produces results which are irrelevant, outdated, inaccurate or otherwise unlawful. While a successful application will remove negative search results appearing under your name or that of a company they have not been removed from the internet, or the search engine, entirely. They could still appear under different search results, just not those linked to the individual’s name.

It is important to note that the Right does not give individuals complete freedom to re-write history or have damaging articles deleted entirely. However, the Right can be an extremely useful tool for the purpose of reputation management.

This is rarely a simple task and the Right to be Forgotten is not absolute and will ultimately depend on the specific facts of a particular case. The Right to be Forgotten must be balanced against the legitimate interest in search engines processing data lawfully and the right to freedom of expression. There may be a legitimate public interest in the information being available via a Google search, or it may still be otherwise relevant to your profession or business.

How we can help

Ward Hadaway have a great deal of experience in dealing with all matters pertaining to reputation management. This includes libel and privacy issues arising out of online material, as well as civil harassment claims. In many circumstances we have been able to secure the removal of online material, including negative posts on review sites.

Where the actual removal of material is not possible, we are able to utilise applications to Google to remove URLs relating to deeply private matters, which are not in the public interest. Most recently we have been able to assist in the delisting of over 50 URLs which were connected with an individual’s historic drink-driving offence, in circumstances where a limited number of articles published in local and national newspapers had been reproduced on a significant number of forums and news aggregator sites.

In another case, we were successful in having a historic article removed from the Mail Online website, which concerned a client’s relationship with a television personality. The client had been married, but the further relationship took place when he was separated. The client was understandably concerned about the potential impact if his children were to find the article.

The success or failure of any application relying on the Right to be Forgotten will likely depend on the facts of your case, including what information is to be removed, the seriousness of the conduct of the person (in appropriate cases) and whether that information is still relevant. Before making an application it is important to seek advice on how the right to be forgotten could apply to your particular circumstances to give you the best chance of succeeding and protecting your reputation.

If you have further questions in relation to the Right to be Forgotten or think that you might want to make an application please get in touch.

Please note that this briefing is designed to be informative, not advisory and represents our understanding of English law and practice as at the date indicated. We would always recommend that you should seek specific guidance on any particular legal issue.

This page may contain links that direct you to third party websites. We have no control over and are not responsible for the content, use by you or availability of those third party websites, for any products or services you buy through those sites or for the treatment of any personal information you provide to the third party.

Contact a specialist

Robert Eldon

Managing Associate | Commercial Litigation

+44 (0) 330 137 3304

+44 (0) 770 220 2133

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Kerry McFarlane

Solicitor | Commercial Litigation

+44 (0) 330 137 3338

+44 (0)784 525 6477

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Russell Ward

Partner | Commercial Litigation

+44 (0) 330 137 3318

+44 (0)773 846 2436

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