The recent ruling by the European Courts that an individual has a ‘right to be forgotten’ on the internet has caused concern and euphoria in equal measures – depending on who you are.

In essence what the ruling states is that if someone feels that a link on the World Wide Web, relating to them is ‘irrelevant and outdated’ they can ask the Search Engine, Google to take it down. The implications of this are far reaching and will clearly have a huge impact not only for the individual but also professional communications advisors, the media and regulators.

Due to their market leading position Google is bearing the brunt of the court’s focus but many observers (including Google themselves) suggest that they are purely a Search Engine, who don’t post the links or control them; they merely rank them and as such are being unfairly targeted. These rankings are based on complex algorithms and ultimately centre around the search terms that a person inputs when looking for something on the internet.

The Online Reputation Management Sector

Many people in the digital reputation management industry are clearly concerned, and quite rightly so because they perceive their industry under direct threat. But, if we take a deep breath…a step backwards….it becomes clear that this is not as clear cut as it appears.

Some of the requests made for these take downs include a politician who wants negative content removing before he attempts to get re-elected to parliament, a paedophile convicted of possessing child pornography, a GP who received negative reviews from patients and rather tellingly many more from people with criminal convictions.

What becomes immediately apparent is that more than 90% of the requested take downs are considered by many to be in the public interest. Who can decide, in a timely and appropriate manner, what is genuinely deemed a breach of someone’s human rights and what is of public interest? Importantly this has put the spotlight on DRM and brought it into the public arena where before it was considered the preserve of celebrities, politicians and corporate organisations.

Cullinan Digital Reputation Management

At Cullinan we consider this a positive for several reasons: Firstly, it means that more people realise and appreciate the significance of DRM and that there is some way of being able to manage and influence their ‘footprint’ on the internet. Policing and actioning the requests for take downs is not something that can be taken lightly and many requests will fail because they are deemed within the public interest – particularly where corporate negligence, pay disputes, cronyism and other related disputes are concerned.

Good SEO Foundations and a comprehensive analysis of your digital footprint 

Secondly, negative content about individuals and companies is going to continue being written and posted onto the web, it’s not going to stop just because of this EU ruling. So there will still be a significant requirement to manage online a reputation until as such time as it is considered appropriate, if at all, to remove it. Thirdly, optimising content is going to be of even greater significance now because people are not only more aware of how Search Engines like Google function, but appreciate that what is being put online needs to be ranked properly so that even good news is ranked higher than other good news.

Finally, conducting extensive Search Engine and Key Phrase audits will now be crucial to an organisation. If you are looking to remove defamatory material online, then we need to identify what is out there in the public domain. Defining and managing your evolving digital footprint is an important part of managing your online identity. Establishing good SEO foundations and ensuring that you have a well indexed positive/balanced reputation from Search Engines become part and parcel of a good digital marketing strategy.

Let’s not forget that whilst Google is being told it must remove the links from its own Search Engine the material will still be on the internet until as such time as the person or organisation that posted it in the first instance removes it. That is clearly going to be a lot more difficult because online forums, Social Media outlets and national media websites are going to challenge the ruling and because of this costly legal battles will develop, and in the process highlight the negative stories even more.

Cullinan will be able to make a significant contribution to the management of your online identity by working on behalf of its clients to represent their take down requests to Google. We see this as an opportunity and a challenge because in the short-term everyone will feel they have a case to answer in wanting negative content removing from the web. The realities are going to be very different however, with what we feel will be a considerable lag in time of the request being approved and it actually happening.

At Cullinan we have experience of working alongside Google as well as experience of already submitting Google Removal Requests. In short we can take the headache out of the process for you. We can advise on the content that can be removed and which we feel we could organically improve for our clients through effective SEO techniques.

We see the management of that process as being another crucial service to provide our clients with on top of the existing DRM and optimisation services that we already offer.