Full-time is still some way off (and of course the game could run to extra time and penalties) but as it stands one could argue that in the crunch digital match about privacy between Google and Europe the current score is 2 – 1, to the Europeans. Why? Because in the past couple of weeks three important legal announcements have ruled that may well dictate how the #righttobeforgotten is played out – and the end result will impact on all of our digital footprints.

What is ‘the right to be forgotten’?

Back in 2014 the European Court of Justice ruled in favour of Spanish national, Mario González, who had complained that two newspaper articles which were published in 1998 were still available online. Both pieces announced the forced sale of a property Mr González had owned and which were being repossessed to pay off his social security debts.

Anyone carrying out a Google search of his name would bring up these links (which ranked highly on page 1 of the Search Engine Results Pages, or SERPs) and he wanted them removed because his debts had been settled and the search history was causing him personal embarrassment and reputational damage.

As a result of the court’s ruling the right to be forgotten came about and in Mr González’s case meant the indexed search links would be removed by Google, but the content would remain on the newspaper’s website. Some have said it was more about a right not to be indexed rather than a right to be forgotten but since then Google have removed millions of links from its search results at the request of individuals.

Europe 0 – Google 1

So, where are we now? Well, first blood was drawn a little over two weeks ago when a senior advisor to the European Court of Justice (ECJ) backed Google’s claim that the right to be forgotten had no jurisdiction outside of Europe and as a result clipped France’s wings after it had asked for the law’s scope to be extended globally. This came about because Google questioned an earlier ruling (from a previous clash between them and CNIL, the French data regulator) after it had been fined 100,000 euros for not removing information across national boundaries.

Europe 1 – Google 1

But Europe levelled the score earlier this week after CNIL announced a 50 million euro fine for a breach of the EU’s data protection rules and a “lack of transparency, inadequate information and lack of valid consent regarding ads personalisation”.  The recent spat stems from GDPR and relates to ad personalisation and how user data is mandated. Ultimately Google are being accused of not obtaining clear permission to process ‘essential information’ because it was ‘disseminated across several documents’.

Europe 2 – Google 1

However, a late strike now puts Europe 2 – 1 up after a Dutch surgeon won a landmark case relating to her suspension from a register of healthcare professionals due to postoperative care. After searching for her name one of the prominent indexed links took the user to an unofficial blacklist, which the Doctor’s lawyers said was ‘digital pillory’. Potential patients had found this out and discussed matters about her on a separate web forum.

Whilst the information on the website (regarding the Doctor’s failings) was correct, it was ruled that by appearing on the blacklist site the suggestion was she was unfit to treat patients and that was not supported by the medical panel’s findings. Google will now have to remove thousands of indexed links as a result and the implications for the rest of the medical profession are wide reaching, not least because in this instance 15 other doctors on the blacklist want action taking on their behalf – with more to follow.

What does this mean for online and digital reputation management?

Many people felt that the geographical boundaries for the right to be forgotten would be extended beyond Europe to encompass the rest of world, by not expanding them it takes away an avenue some individuals had hoped would be open to them. Naturally many will see this as a victory for free speech, but for some the news will be disheartening.

However, all is not lost because specialist online and digital reputation management experts will be able to fill the void with the creation of bespoke strategies that should be able to help those in need when their searched for results produce content that is harmful, upsetting or just plain inaccurate. These need to be highly targeted solutions that over a period of time will have the desired effect, and whilst in some cases it might take many months the outcome should be beneficial to them and their SERPs.