Once a picture or video of you is shared on the Internet, it is nigh on impossible to remove the content. However, sometimes our pictures, videos, or other information find their way to the Internet without our consent, and it can be extremely challenging to wipe them off of the Internet. It almost as though once something has been posted online, it has become immortal.
After all, who knows when and if any of our social media content will ever be completely removed from the Internet? You might reasonably expect that all of the servers and data would be destroyed when the company that hosted our social media content – Facebook, for example – has finally bit the dust like other historic empires. But that could take eons!
Furthermore, today’s college students walk a more perilous path to employment than ever before. All it takes is for one college student to get a little bit of attention at a social gathering, and someone will undoubtedly take a video of them with their smartphones and share the video with their friends. While college antics may seem funny at the time, they can come back to bite you in the butt years down the road. Because social media has grown exponentially over the last decade, it is extremely common for employers to Google potential candidates to see if they can find any red flags as they proceed through the hiring process. If you’re potential employer Googles your name and finds, say, pictures from a party in college, your chances of getting hired are going to plummet.
So what happens when we wish for certain pieces of content to be removed from the web? This is what the right to be forgotten is all about. Unfortunately, trying to remove the undesirable and potentially harmful content depends largely upon where it is hosted. For example, deleting imagery on Facebook that isn’t under your control is a lot different than trying to remove content that was hosted on a popular humor website.
Changes with the EU and Google’s Response
The EU has recently changed their laws and had petitioned Google to give people the right to be forgotten. In fact, you can find the form that Google made available as a result of the 2014 ruling here. However, the form doesn’t have an option for the United States as it only lists 28 European locations. Also, third parties can make the request from Google because the form requires a photo ID. This helps to negate problems in which embarrassing or inappropriate photos were taken of multiple people.
In addition, you can specify a name that you want the search results to be removed for. So if your name is John Doe, you can send a request to deindex certain links from appearing for the keywords “John Doe.” However, note that this is not the same as removing the availability of the content – it only prevents the search results from appearing under your name. Though it would still be possible for an employer to find and locate the content, it does make it much harder for them. Essentially, it hides the content and disassociates it from your name. Unfortunately, the form only allows you to specify one name, though. So if your name is commonly misspelled or it has variations (Mark vs Marc or Josh vs Joshua) the content could still be located with the incorrect spelling. Ideally you would need to account for these variations and submit the form multiple times with a different variation of your name.
You can, however, specify more than one link that you want to be deindexed, but you also need to provide the reasons you want the URLs deindexed.
Unfortunately the United States doesn’t have the same laws as the EU. This feature that Google has created in response to the EU ruling is very attractive. There are many US citizens that could benefit from this feature as well. Sadly the form doesn’t contain an option for the United States, and ideally people should have control over what others can find by searching their name on the Internet.
The solution isn’t perfect though, because there are numerous other channels and methods someone could use to find potentially harmful or embarrassing content about someone such as Facebook, other social media channels, alternative search engines, and websites that are designed to scan for background information.
Though we don’t currently have laws providing the right to be forgotten, many agree that the US should follow suit and adopt the EU’s policies. It would certainly help businesses and individuals alike disassociate themselves from negative content, but unfortunately this is not a reality today in the United States.