Online Reputation: How much do you know about 'the right to be forgotten'?

September 4, 2014
Online Reputation: How much do you know about 'the right to be forgotten'?

It is difficult to overstate the importance of online reputation in the modern working world. 

The first recourse of many individuals nowadays when a company or freelancer is recommended to them is to check them out online.

For those with a professional website and squeaky clean LinkedIn profile, this is no concern, but what about those who have something online that they would rather they – and the rest of the world – forgot about?

Online reputation

A good online reputation is an important tool in winning over new customers, particularly for professional freelancers such as translators and copywriters. Glowing testimonials from satisfied customers can set you apart from the competition and act as references for everything from the quality of your work to your integrity to your excellent value for money. 

A poor online reputation, on the other hand, can quickly drive potential (and even existing) customers away from your services and towards those of other translators. 

In many ways, this is a fundamentally fair way for the internet to be used, with customers receiving genuine and honest feedback about what they can expect from an individual or company’s services. However, those who have previously earned a poor reputation online, but then improved their services greatly may be exposed to significant disadvantage due to the earlier information. 

The ‘right to be forgotten’

This is where the right to be forgotten comes into play. Earlier this year, the EU court of justice delivered a landmark ruling, granting Mario Costeja González the right to be forgotten. 

Mr Costeja González had had his home repossessed and put up for auction back in 1998. A Catalonia newspaper had published the auction notice online and now, well over a decade later, Mr Costeja González argued that he had the right for the matter to be forgotten, rather than haunting him forever thanks to Google’s search results. 

Google disagreed and refused to remove the item from their search listings, seeing themselves more as a portal through which information is shared than as a data controller. Currently Googling ‘Costeja González’ will bring up an image of the listing in the second row down on Google’s homepage (a position which receives 17.6% of all traffic, according to research from Chitika based on US and Canadian users). 

The matter went as far as the EU court of justice, which eventually ruled that Google was required to delete “inadequate, irrelevant or no longer relevant” data from its results when a member of the public requested it to do so. A further 200 similar cases were pending from Spanish citizens at the time of the ruling. 

Reputation management 

For those who don’t have the time or resources to commit to a lengthy court battle, reputation management provides a viable alternative. In a nutshell, the process involves the creation of new, positive online content that is SEO friendly and designed to rank higher in Google’s search results than older, negative content. 

Reputation management is often sufficient if it can be used to push the older content as far down as the sixth result or lower. This is because the top five links on Google between then capture 75.7% of traffic (based on Chitika’s study), so the majority of web users won’t see anything lower than the fifth position in search results. 

The process essentially only masks the negative press rather than removing it from search results altogether, but it can be used effectively by those who are committed to promoting their new, positive reputation above their previous negative one. 

The future of privacy

The court’s ruling has raised some fascinating questions regarding individuals’ right to privacy online, their right for information to be forgotten and the ‘policing’ of the internet. Only time, and no doubt further court cases, will tell how the tale evolves going forward. 

What is your view of the right to be forgotten? Let us know via the comments box. 

By Ofer Tirosh

Ofer Tirosh is the founder and CEO of Tomedes, a language technology and translation company that supports business growth through a range of innovative localization strategies. He has been helping companies reach their global goals since 2007.



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