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What does the right to be forgotten mean for you?

Following yesterday’s European Court of Justice judgment creating a “right to be forgotten”, we ask what this means for ordinary individuals. What are your rights? Can you now ask Google to delete hoards of personal data?

What does the right to be forgotten mean for you? ©-Thomas-Jansa-Fotolia
What does the right to be forgotten mean for you? ©-Thomas-Jansa-Fotolia

Right to be forgotten created

Yesterday, the European Court of Justice handed down a judgment essentially creating a right to be forgotten by search engine operators, such as Google (Case C-131/12). The landmark ruling is doubtlessly one of the most important judgments to be reached in the area of internet law.

Now individuals are asking themselves what their rights are. Can you ask Google to delete hoards of personal data? And how should you go about it?

We attempt to answer these questions.

What are your rights?

Generally speaking individuals now have a direct right to request that Google delete personal data provided there is no higher public interest standing in the way. Such a higher public interest will probably not be applicable in cases concerning private individuals. This therefore means that Google could be required to delete telephone numbers, residential address and dates of birth from its index. Individuals have the right to sensitive information, such as their year of birth, address, the location where they studied and other similar information, being deleted from Google. It remains to be seen how Google will implement the judgment.

German lawyer and partner at WILDE BEUGER SOLMECKE, Christian Solmecke, suspects that “…it is conceivable that certain results in relation to searches for specific persons will not be displayed in the future. This judgment is a huge victory for the right to free personal development. However, from experience and in light of the ‘Google autocomplete case’ we know that Google prefers to wait and see how many users make use of their rights before taking action.”

How to request the deletion of personal data

Individuals who wish for personal data to be deleted should follow these steps:

  1. Write an e-mail to Google in which you request the deletion of the relevant personal data
  2. If Google does not react, you can instruct a lawyer in the country in which you live and in which Google’s subsidiary is located to request that the data be deleted.
  3. Report the violation by Google to your country’s data protection commissioner

It is also important to know that the costs of instructing a lawyer will be covered by any legal expenses insurance you may have.

Can Google avoid implementing the ECJ judgment?

Google cannot avoid implementing the ECJ’s decision. The legal issues have been conclusively resolved; the judgment is a final judgment and the Spanish court must abide by it.

However, the national court must now decide whether the public interest in having the information published outweighs that of the individual’s interest in the protection of personal data. Mr Solmecke assumes that this is unlikely to be the case.


Following this judgment, it is now established that individuals can no longer simply be “googled”. The judgment addresses the concerns of the particular dangers of modern data processing systems.

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