Right to be forgotten

‘The right to be forgotten’ and your online presence.

When was the last time you Googled yourself? Was it for kicks or was it to see what a potential employer might find?

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My online name twins are writers, events planners, lawyers and psychotherapists. I reckon I got off lightly. Can you imagine sharing a name and a city with a porn star, a fraud or a paedophile? Or worse, what if you’d done something in the past you aren’t proud of and now it’s still out there, sprawled across the internet with YOUR name on it and you have no way of removing it?

The idea of one’s identity online and the right to remove those references has recently come into the spotlight due to a European court of justice ruling saying that Google will have to delete some information from its index. The central division that’s causing a lot of debate is the right to privacy versus the right to freedom of expression. The information might be about you, but it’s in a public domain.

According to the Guardian, the facts of the case are that a Spanish politician had to sell some property in a government-ordered auction to recover social security debts that he owed. A newspaper article published online about the situation has become a prominent search result and González argued that the newspaper and Google should remove the information about the auction because they infringed his right to privacy. The upshot of the ruling is that someone who wants information about them taken out of the index will have to apply to Google, who will then have to weigh up whether it is in the public interest for that information to remain.

Yesterday I had a chat with a friend who described ‘the right to be forgotten’ as the sweetest five words she had ever heard and felt like they were the only thing she’d ever been inclined to use as a tattoo. You see she’s a journalist and she wrote some arbitrary stuff at the beginning of her career that isn’t her best work but she was told to do it so she did. Now, years later, it’s always the top search result for her name and it makes her feel creeped out by the internet in general. Being online is not a happy place for her because of this incident. In fact, she just wants to get off the grid entirely.

But can you ever ‘get off’  the internet? (this article suggests only the powerful will actually benefit from the ‘right to be forgotten’). And is this the best decision if you are a freelancer by trade? After chatting it through, we decided the solution would be to build her a portfolio website. Adding a site to the list of search results might sound counter-intuitive, but perhaps in this case you have to fight fire with fire.

We dreamed up a site that shows off her latest work – pieces she’s proud of – and does so in her own way. Instead of trying to erase herself, she curate a space that’s all her own. In a Google search, alongside old rubbish, there would be a current site where potential clients could find out more about her, see some of her work and get in touch with her.

So what do you find if you Google yourself?

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For your viewing pleasure: The Elizabeth Fletchers of the internet wilds

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