Is the EU’s new Right to be Forgotten a force for good?

Google has become one of the most trusted information gathering tools available to people in recent times. Its effects have been felt across multiple sectors and disciplines across the globe. In the PR industry it has changed the speed at which breaking news is available, as well as making other information easier to find, such as a company’s financials or shareholder reports.

This is why this ruling is so fascinating and it has sent shockwaves right to the core of the media and communications industries. Despite recent criticisms of Google from a number of detractors and subsequent developments of splinter cell websites such as ‘Hidden From Google’, the basis of the judgement has not changed since the off.

To offer a quick glance at how this came into motion; the ruling has been bought forward by an individual’s Google search history highlighting a past conviction and this will now act as a precedent for all future cases. It was ruled that he did have a right to remove the information stored against his name, as this was not seen to be in the public interest. So what is in the public interest?

Most private individuals’ affairs clearly do not impact on the public, unless they are CEO of a public company, but even then information is mainly relevant to shareholders. There are striking similarities between this and the High Court injunctions which were broken in 2012 when Twitter went into meltdown over a retired footballer’s extra-marital behaviour.

Essentially, it is the job of reputation management and PR agencies to protect their clients’ interests, and the EU’s ruling will help achieve this. Previously, PR agencies have created news, social media channels, blogs and interacted with journalists to place stories which will ultimately improve Google’s search results for clients.

There will, however, be drawbacks to abandoning the more traditional approach and focussing solely on removing search results. If, as recent news predicts, Google UK (Google.co.uk) puts a disclaimer against search results stating that information has been removed for that specific search term, this will only provoke more suspicion of those behind the search. This information will be easy to find, too, as under the United States Constitution, censorship is not permitted and so the omitted results will be viewable on Google’s US search engine (Google.com) as well as other websites like the ones already noted.

But prevention is better than cure, and whilst it’s a good thing for individuals looking to remove an unfortunate event from their past, it does not remove the need for PR activity as the information will still be available in the public domain. This ruling will obviously impact the industry; the extent of the consequences remains to be seen. It should not, however, stop you from improving your digital footprint, which will provide you with the opportunity to receive the recognition you deserve.

That’s How The Cookie Crumbles

The EU’s Privacy and Electronic Communications Directive, aka The Cookie Law has now come into force whereby all business websites based in European countries must now gain explicit permission from the user before dropping non-essential cookies onto internet enabled devises. The understanding of non-essential is a little ambiguous, but is generally taken to mean every cookie with exceptions of those used for online checkouts and shopping baskets, banking security services or those which ensure websites load quickly.

The legislation has actually been in force since early 2011 with a twelve month grave period which is rapidly counting down. This is part of a global trend to combat internet user’s privacy fears, both Mozilla and Twitter have taken steps to protect users by limiting tracking technology.

There has been a vocal campaign arguing the new law is unworkable and usability of the internet will be adversely affected, however instead of helping consumers opponents are rallying against something that is already law. Doing nothing is not an adoption, the Information Commissioners Office (ICO) is the body responsible for enforcing the UK law, and will be able to fine website owners up to £500,000 for serious breaches in the law. As yet it is difficult to predict how the law will be enforced but in making enforcement decisions the ICO has made it clear it will weigh up the interests of individual privacy with the needs of businesses to continue to profit from the web.

Brand and business will still continue to use cookies to improve the quality of their service, but what the legislation is forcing them to do is be more open and honest about what they do with the information collected and why it is ultimately beneficial to the consumer. 

No brand wants to be singled out for non-compliance, both the fine and the adverse publicity could be quite damaging. Which is why is it surprising we haven’t seen more websites introducing ICO recommended changes, in fact brands could be missing out on some opportunities to creative positive PR and brand strength by being ahead of the game and taking measure to educate consumers in the run up to the 26th.

The low levels of consumer awareness around what cookies actually are and do remains problematic for business as consumers are likely to opt out as they are unaware of the benefits of cookies and how they will actually improve a user’s online experience. According to an Econsultancy survey around a third of consumers wrongly believe cookies could be used for viruses and Trojans while 40% believe cookies were bad for the web.

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What happens after the 26th remains to be seen, the ICO in a last minute amendment clarified that websites can rely on “implied consent” for some aspects, so long as sites are satisfied that users understand the overall terms to which they have agreed. Only time will tell when it comes to examining just how the cookie crumbles.