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What is the “right to be forgotten” and why is it important for charities?


For anyone who has received damaging or intrusive press or social media coverage, search results can be a serious issue. From potential employers or clients to journalists and new acquaintances, most people looking for information about another person will start with a Google search. If the first page of online search results produces a torrent of negative information about you, the reputational impact of this can be difficult to overcome.

It is not only individuals who are affected by this problem. Where the person at the receiving end of negative coverage is a senior employee, trustee, or perhaps even a donor, the impact may be felt by the entire charity. In the context of the level of public trust in charities hitting an all time low according to a report released last year, the need to maintain a charity’s reputation and continue to inspire public trust and confidence is of the utmost importance.

So what might be done to tackle these reputational issues and limit the long-term impact on both the individual and the charity?

In the past it was perhaps more common for an individual to rely on defamation or privacy law to tackle reputational issues, but with an increasing reliance on the internet for information, there are many circumstances in which these legal avenues will be inadequate. Stories will often go viral or the websites publishing the information will be based outside the UK. There will also be instances where neither defamation nor privacy law is an option because the information has been lawfully published. In these cases, having links to the story removed from search results may be the best strategy.

With this in mind, we are increasingly asked how to remove search results for peoples’ names under the “right to be forgotten”, made famous by the 2014 Google Spain [1] case, and which has now been codified in Article 17 of the GDPR. The right to be forgotten is a now a well-known legal remedy, and many will hope it applies to their circumstances. But although applications for search engine removals are increasingly common, they are by no means simple.  

In her recent briefing, our colleague Alicia Mendonca-Richards discusses some of the most commonly asked questions and misconceptions about the “right to be forgotten”, as well as considering the impact of several high-profile cases against Google in the last few years. 

[1] Google Spain SL and Google Inc. v Agencia Espanola de Proteccion de Datos (AEPD) and Mario Costeja Gonzalez (C-131/12)

If you require further information about anything covered in this briefing, please contact Benjamin Pass, or your usual contact at the firm on +44 (0)20 3375 7000.

This publication is a general summary of the law. It should not replace legal advice tailored to your specific circumstances.

© Farrer & Co LLP, February 2020

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