Thesis #46

The ‘Right To Be Forgotten’ is really just a right not to be found by a search engine.

In 2014 the European Court of Justice issued a landmark ruling that individuals in countries within its jurisdiction had the right to prohibit Google from linking to web pages about them that were “inadequate, irrelevant or no longer relevant, or excessive in relation to the purposes for which they were processed and in the light of the time that has elapsed.” This created the so-called ‘Right to be Forgotten’ (RTBF) – which is a misnomer because the complained-of material can still remain on the Web. What the ruling confers is thus only a right not to be listed in a Google search conducted in any of the countries lying within the jurisdiction of the European Court.

But given the dominance of Google in the European market, it is essentially an implicit recognition that an Internet company possesses an extraordinary power — the ability effectively to render an individual invisible in cyberspace on the grounds that if a Google search can’t find him or her, then that person has effectively ‘been disappeared’.

This power is mitigated to some extent by the fact that the complained-of content can still be found by searching on — the version of the search engine that operates in the United States. But there have been pressures in Europe to have the right extended to all versions of Google’s search engine.

Further reading

Jeffrey Toobin, “The Solace of Oblivion”, New Yorker, 29 September 2014.

Wikipedia, “Right to be Forgotten”.

UK Information Commissioner, “The right to erasure (the right to be forgotten)”,