It's called the "right to be forgotten," and if you live in an European Union country, it may apply to you. The Court of Justice of the European Union decided on May 13 that individuals can ask search engines to remove certain results from search queries involving their names.
Google was unhappy with the court's ruling, but the company faces fines if it doesn't honor the law. So Google has now put up a form that lets users apply to delete unflattering search results.
There are caveats, of course. The results will be removed only for search engines pertaining to specific European countries (such as Google.fr and Google.de). They will not be removed from Google.com. And the webpages won't actually go away; it's just that people searching from European Union countries will have a harder time finding them.
Are there certain webpages associated with you that you don't want people to see? Under the European Union's European Data Protection Law, if you provide evidence that those pages are "inadequate, irrelevant or no longer relevant, or excessive in relation to the purposes for which they were processed," you can petition Google or other major search engines to remove them. If you're successful, the search engines need to make sure those pages no longer appear in searches for your name.
The court ruling applies to the 28 countries of the European Union. For unspecified reasons, Google has also included the non-EU countries of Norway, Switzerland, Liechtenstein and Iceland, for a total of 32.
Ninety percent of online searches in Europe are done via Google, so removing incriminating pages from results is likely to affect how friends, family and potential employers perceive you online. However, persistent and computer-savvy investigators, both amateur and professional, will still be able to find just about anything.
With that in mind, here's how to exercise your right to be forgotten.
2. Select your country of residence among the thirty-two participating countries. If your request is approved, the webpages in question will be removed from all European versions of Google.
3. Enter your personal information: the name associated with the search results in question, your own name (if you're filling out the form on another's behalf), your relationship to that person (if applicable) and your email address.
4. Now enter the URLs of the pages you want removed from your search results in the provided text box. You can add multiple URLs by clicking the "Add additional" button beneath, and putting each new URL in a different box.
5. Enter an explanation for why each URL should be removed from your search results in the larger text box just below the boxes for the URLs. In this larger box, re-enter the URL you want removed, then then the explanation. If you have more than one URL, then enter the others in the same fashion, with the complete URL followed by your explanation. If you run out of room, you can always submit multiple forms.
6. Upload an image of a form of identification, such as a driver's license, then check the "Confirm" box to confirm that you are who you say you are. To upload the image, click the "Browse" button, then navigate through your computer's files to find the desired image.
7. Provide a "signature" for the form by entering the current date and then reentering your name. Then click the blue "Submit" button and you're done.
Google hasn't given a time frame for when these forms will be processed, and it's too early to say how loosely or strictly Google will follow the European Union law. When your request is processed, you will be notified at the email address you supplied in step 3.