Right to be Forgotten

    Legal Recognition

    The legal recognition of the right to be forgotten has been welcomed by many. But a month later it is clear that it is difficult to find the right balance between the right to privacy and the right to information. The legal recognition of the right to be forgotten gdpr‘ dates back to a case between Spaniard Cotija Gonzalez and the Spanish subsidiary of Google. 

    In 2010, Gonzalez filed a complaint with the Spanish data protection agency because anyone who entered Gonzalez’s name on Google saw two references in the results list to newspaper articles from La Vanguard from 1998. They were about an auction of buildings because Gonzalez had social security debts. Gonzalez found that information no longer relevant in 2010 and asked that the pages concerned be removed or no longer displayed in the search results.

    Biggest Storm

    The European Court of Justice followed Gonzalez, setting an important precedent. The Court ruled that Google had to remove the search results if they were ‘inadequate’, ‘irrelevant’ or ‘excessive’. However, exceptions were made for ‘public figures’.

    Since the decision, Google has already received 70,000 requests to ‘be forgotten’, of which more than 2,300 in Belgium. Although the biggest storm surge has passed – Google received 12,000 requests on day one – there are still 1,000 requests coming in every day. They are each treated separately.

    How to get unwanted information off the web

    First try to contact the  administrator  of the website that contains the information and explain your problem. Show that you are who you claim to be, for example by sending an e-mail from a registered e-mail address, or by sending a scan of your identity card.

    If necessary, follow the formal route: send a dated and signed  letter , with a copy of your identity card, to the person responsible for the processing of personal data (or to the registered office). Give reasons why you are requesting the removal of certain data. If you have not yet received a response, you can send a registered reminder letter.

    Also read: right to be forgotten process


    In the event of a refusal or if you do not receive an answer, you can consider submitting a  complaint  to the competent data authority, such as the Belgian Privacy Commission.

    An alternative solution is  to ask Google  to remove the links to the offending information from their search results. The information will still be online, but it will be much more difficult to find. You can submit a request.


    For several weeks now, Google has also  put an application form  online for EU citizens who want to delete information.  But the provisions imposed by the Court are actually very vague. And so Google itself gets a big responsibility to work out a decent framework in those vague terms that offers some form of certainty.

    To steer that process in the right direction, Google has set up a committee to think about the theme. This includes Jimmy Wales, the man behind Wikipedia. The Flemish academic Peggy Volcker (KU Leuven) also has a place in it. The committee will meet a few times and will report early next year.

    Privacy Committee

    In the meantime, Google has to do without a manual. And that is not without a struggle. The British press in particular reacted furiously to the fact that Google removed certain links to articles. The Guardian , The Daily Mail and the BBC have been particularly angry with Google in recent days, claiming that the company would censor them. Yesterday, Google put some links back online.

    That ‘scratching back’ makes it especially clear that Google is still searching for the right approach. “This is a new process for us that will develop in the near future,” said Google spokesman Mark Jansen. “We will continue to listen to feedback we receive and will work with the privacy committees and others as we comply with the ruling.”

    Public Figure

    The Flemish media world is apparently less concerned about the removal of search results than the British. ‘As a publisher, we would prefer that everything we publish remains published,’ says Karen Van Brabant, lawyer at De Paragroup. But the demand to be forgotten is not always unreasonable. To the best of my knowledge, we have not yet received any notice from Google that links were being deindexed. 

    If it does, we may not make it a problem. At least, if it concerns a reasonable question and not, for example, a public figure who cleans up the negative stories about his person.’ Van Brabant thinks it is a pity that the Court’s ruling actually creates more uncertainty than clarity. ‘It’s only about search results. So the issue is fragmented. But the last word has not yet been said. There will be case law that will further define the relationship between privacy and information.’

    Also read: Right to be Forgotten Meaning