“Right To Be Forgotten”: Can You Really Get Your Information Erased From Google? 

In the News

The Internet is rife with embarrassing photos, videos and misinformation about people. But did you know you have a legal right to be forgotten which can in some cases help you wipe the slate clean? 

Deleting the information or making it harder to find 

Your right to be forgotten entitles you to two options: stop the information from being shared or have it de-indexed.  

To stop the information from being shared, the owner of the website deletes the web page that contains the problematic photo, video, text or other type of information about you.  

De-indexing means that a search engine like Google or Bing ensures the page no longer appears when someone looks you up online. The page isn’t deleted, but it becomes hard to find. Outside Quebec, this is sometimes known as “delisting”. 

You must reach out to the business 

Some businesses have forms you can use to make this kind of request. That’s the case for Google (which includes YouTube) and Facebook (which includes Instagram).  

If there is no dedicated form, you’ll need to contact the “person in charge of the protection of personal information”, often known as a “privacy officer”. You can find their contact information, which they are legally required to make available, on the business’s website.  

However, there are criteria  

For the information about you to be deleted or delisted, you have to prove that the harm it causes to your reputation or privacy outweighs the public’s interest in knowing the information.   

Information is of public interest when it affects citizens’ general wellbeing and community life. This extends beyond merely satisfying peoples’ curiosity.  

For instance, a criminal conviction may be of public interest, but the fact that someone obtained a pardon or that an order was issued in camera may fall within the right to be forgotten. 

You could also have the right to be forgotten if 

  • you are a minor, 
  • the information is sensitive, or 
  • the information is inaccurate or not up to date.  

For example, the first time the right to be forgotten was invoked, it involved embarrassing information that was long out of date. This happened in Europe in 2014. The courts ordered Google to delist (de-index) search results mentioning a Spanish lawyer’s bankruptcy, which had happened 10 years prior and which the lawyer had long since overcome. 

You might also have the right to be forgotten if the law prohibits that such information be disseminated or if a court ordered that the information be de-indexed or deleted. 

If a business has denied your right to be forgotten, you can file a complaint with the Commission d’accès à l’information (access to information commission). 

For more information on the steps you’ll need to follow, click here.  

Did you know? 

In Quebec, the right to be forgotten was introduced following a reform of the laws surrounding personal information protection. A number of other rights and remedies were also updated, including as regards the information you can refuse to disclose to a private business or public body. See our Web Guide for more information.