How to Remove Your Sensitive Personal Information from Search Engine
There are things in our past that we would rather forget like an ugly divorce proceeding and personal bankruptcy.
Canadians were taunted about their ugly past when the Romanian website Globe24h.com republished the Canadian court and tribunal decisions that are also available on Canadian legal website CanLII.org.
Unlike CanLII – a non-profit organization created and funded by the Federation of Law Societies of Canada – which doesn’t index its web content for search engines, Globe24h allows search engines to find its web content. Because of the indexing of the Globe24h content, personal information like full names, children’s names and other sensitive data of a number of Canadians appeared prominently on search engine results.
Forty-nine Canadians complained against Globe24h from October 2013 to April 2016 before the Office of the Privacy Commissioner of Canada. While the complainants understood that the court and tribunal decisions would be published somewhere for record purposes and to aid the courts and legal profession in understanding the development and application of the law, they didn’t understand why these decisions would appear as a result of a casual search on a search engine like Google.
In January this year, the Federal Court of Canada ordered the owner of Globe24h to remove all Canadian court and tribunal decisions containing personal information and “take the necessary steps to remove these decisions from search engines caches”.
The court ruled that the claim “to make law accessible for free on the Internet” by the owner of Globe24h can’t be considered journalistic as the owner “adds no value to the publication by way of commentary, additional information or analysis”. Globe24h has ceased operation since then.
Right to be Forgotten
Google.com was registered on September 15, 1997. In its close to 20 years of existence, it has become the world’s most popular search engine. Seeing your tense divorce proceeding, with personal details, including the names and birth dates of your children on search engine results is understandably a disturbing experience.
In 2010, a Spanish national filed a complaint against a Spanish newspaper, Google Spain and Google, Inc., asking the three entities to remove the data relating to his personal bankruptcy case as this had been fully resolved for a number of years and, therefore, any reference to the case was entirely irrelevant.
On May 13, 2014, the Court of Justice of the European Union (PDF) ruled in a landmark decision popularly called “Right to be Forgotten” that citizens in EU countries have the right to ask search engines to remove links with personal information about them. The court clarified that the right to be forgotten isn’t absolute and should be balanced against other fundamental rights, including freedom of expression.
The EU Court’s decision leaves the responsibility to search engines to assess case by case the sensitivity of the data in question to the individual's private life and the interest of the public to access such information.
The right to be forgotten is accurately defined as "a right to be delisted from search results” by Kent Walker, Senior Vice President and General Counsel of Google in a blog post dated May 19, 2016. According to Walker, across Europe, Google reviewed nearly 1.5 million webpages and delisted around 40%.
Another case is pending before the Court of Justice of the European Union, this time, asking Google not only to delist certain webpages from Google’s search engine results in one particular country but also in every country in the world. Google opposes the worldwide application of the right to be forgotten.
"For hundreds of years, it has been an accepted rule of law that one country should not have the right to impose its rules on the citizens of other countries,” Walker said. “As a company that operates globally, we work hard to respect these differences.”
While the question of whether the right to be forgotten should be applied worldwide with regards to requests from EU citizens is still pending before the EU Court, the Supreme Court of Canada already ruled on the question of worldwide delisting of webpages from search results.
In a decision dated June 28, 2017, the majority of the justices of the Supreme Court of Canada ordered Google to globally de-index websites of the company named only as “D”. The case arises from the patent dispute between D and another company named “E”. D and its representatives have ignored all previous court orders made against them, left Canada and operate their business in unknown locations.
“D is only able to survive – at the expense of E’s survival – on Google’s search engine which directs potential customers to D’s websites,” Justice Abella, writing for the majority of the justices of the Supreme Court of Canada, said. “This makes Google the determinative player in allowing the harm to occur.”
In their dissenting opinion, Justices Côté and Rowe said that the order against Google to de-list the websites of D is rendered ineffective as D launches new websites to replace de-listed ones. "Courts should avoid granting injunctions that require such cumbersome court-supervised updating,” Justices Côté and Rowe said.
Canadian citizens can request Google to remove sensitive information from its search engine results. As a rule, the search engine giant will remove child sexual abuse imagery. It’ll also remove content in response to valid legal requests such as copyright notifications.
On a case-to-case basis, according to Google, it may remove personal information after asking the following questions:
Google also recommends contacting the website owner. “Even if Google deletes the site or image from our search results, the webpage still exists and can be found through the URL to the site, social media sharing, or other search engines,” the search engine giant said.
The company added that it usually doesn’t remove content that can be found on official government websites as the data is already publicly available.
ReputationMart.com - passionate digital marketing team.