Right to be forgotten: “Reputation on the Internet is a right, not a sentence” | Technology
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José Cohen, an engineer who has not yet turned 40, has spent the last 12 years rebuilding his life after being caught in the net. Cleaning up his reputation after an incident caused by some employees of a company he created in his youth has cost him financial and personal ruin. Three months ago he managed to remove the latest links that accused him of a scam in which he never participated and of which he was a victim. Manipulation of images for erotic content, usurpation of personality for commercial purposes, destruction of brands or the mere existence of content that over time becomes inappropriate are some of the cases in which the fight for the right to be forgotten on the Internet becomes vitally relevant . Progress has been made on this in recent legislation, but it still ruins lives. “People don’t know that reputation on the Internet is not a sentence: it is a right,” says Josep Coll, director of RepScan, a company distinguished by the Barcelona Chamber of Commerce that is responsible for eliminating all harmful information on the Internet. Like this entity, many others have emerged because the process, although it can be carried out by any individual, is more difficult without legal and technical support. The cost can range from just under 100 euros for deleting a photo or video to more than 500 for deleting a page.
Cohen created a company for the sale of “adult toys”, as he calls it, 12 years ago. He sold aircraft and exclusive vehicles for games through the network. Everything went well, “with important billings”, as he recalls, until a worker, according to him, began to send packages without real content to steal the objects purchased by users and sell them on his account. Another employee who took care of the computer system was in charge of eliminating the claims.
“I didn’t know anything. It was a friend who warned me that I was getting green on some forums, ”she explains. Cohen attempted to reverse the situation by locating all those affected and returning their money. He spread the word through the forums and received complaints from users who had not even bought his products. He paid until he went bankrupt.
“At first I didn’t give it all the importance because I thought that the people who knew me would not pay attention,” he recalls. But the persistence of insulting opinions on the Internet caused him to lose job opportunities: “Every time I went to an interview, they had searched for my name on the Internet and all the links that harmed me appeared. They didn’t even ask me, because I would have explained it. Finally, I entered a public company by opposition, but until recently I had to put up with comments from a colleague”. He tried to delete the references personally and also used several companies and spent more than 3,000 euros. Cohen lost his personal and professional life along the way, which now, more than a decade later, he has managed to recover, or almost. “At family meals we don’t talk about the internet,” he laments.
Odón Martí is a communication consultant and he had to face another case: the usurpation of an entity’s website, with all its content, to link it to a cryptocurrency page totally unrelated to the businessman he represented. He explains that the corporation had forgotten to renew the domain and someone used it. “It wasn’t just a photo; it was all content,” he recalls. Martí highlights the importance of keeping passwords and access to the web in good hands. “Some companies don’t even remember who has them or the worker who had them is no longer an employee and they no longer know what they are,” he warns. He also warns of the importance of the content that is uploaded in a particular way at a given time without knowing the effect that it will have after a while.
A similar case occurred to the well-known economist Santiago Niño Becerra, professor of Economic Structure at the Sarriá Chemical Institute of the Ramon Llull University of Barcelona, as he himself explains in a video: “One day I realised, through a good friend, that they were supplanting my identity on a website that recommended the purchase of a financial asset. It was absolutely false.”
In cases like these, the Spanish Agency for Data Protection (AEPD) and the Ministry of Consumer Affairs recommend acting directly with the platform that hosts the content to be removed, the false comment or the impersonated profile. The main ones, like Facebook, Google, Twitter, Instagram or TikTok, offer their own channels. But if the claim is not successful, the AEPD recommends reporting it to this entity through its electronic headquarters. The agency has established a priority and free channel for content of a sexual nature or in which minors are involved.
Josep Coll believes that both the legislation on the right to be forgotten, established for the first time in May 2014, and the technical resources “play more and more in favor of the user”, but acknowledges that the difficulties of the process and the lack of response still hinder. “It’s like the income statement: you can do it yourself, but many turn to advisors.” The manager highlights how his company uses not only the legal foundations to make the right to be forgotten effective, but also artificial intelligence to sweep the web in all areas to find every last link. And it’s not always a web page with an identifiable domain. “In some cases,” he explains, “it is an image that the user himself posted and is no longer timely or a photograph where someone tagged us without our consent or personal information that is irrelevant that is in the public domain.”
This is the case of Mercedes, who for obvious reasons, after 10 years appearing on the network, prefers not to be identified by her last name. Her case is almost bureaucratic. Her divorce decree had to be public for a legal period of six months to ensure the other party’s right to know the resolution. At first she didn’t mind that the time limits set were exceeded, but one day she got tired of the fact that, when putting her name in the search engine, the first reference that appeared was the file with all the details. Also for her son. “I left it because I felt like it, I wanted to turn the page. It doesn’t affect me at work or anything, but I’m tired of it, ”she says. Finally, after several unsuccessful attempts to delete her information personally and through a consumer organization, she succeeded at a cost of 300 euros.
Remove Group, another company dedicated to internet reputation, also offers de-indexing services (disappearance of a URL – unique and specific address that is assigned to each of the resources available on the network – from a search engine’s database) o depositioning, preventing negative content from occupying the top positions in search results. “The number of people who come to look for information on a second page is minimal,” says the company.
Google is the main search engine and claims to “work hard to implement the right to be forgotten in Europe and maintain a balance between the right of people to access information and the right to privacy,” according to a response sent by the company.
Coll insists that reputation on the Internet is a right and Google ratifies it by recalling that a resolution of the Court of Justice of the European Union “grants natural persons the right to request search engines to remove certain results from queries related to a person’s name.” “When deciding which results are going to be removed,” the company adds, “search engines should take into account whether the information in question is inaccurate, inadequate, irrelevant or excessive and whether there is a public interest in that said information continuing to appear. in the search results”.
Since 2014, the search engine has removed 48.6% of the URLs claimed, according to the guidelines of the Article 29 Working Group on the implementation of the resolution of the Court of Justice of the European Union on the right to be forgotten, those of the European Committee for Data Protection and the jurisprudence of the Court of Justice of the European Union.
Any user can make the request through the withdrawal form. The information page on how to proceed once the request is received explains the steps that are followed and the general page indicates what is taken into account to carry out the decision.