The internet is a virtual hive of activity. It is a veritable information superhighway where all communications can be tracked, traced and ultimately intercepted. If all of this is a little disconcerting, don’t stress. There are ways to take control of the situation, at least in Europe. Back in 2014, the European Court of Justice (ECJ) made a stunning ruling, in short, you have the right to be forgotten.
There are many reasons you may wish to remove your digital history from the internet. Perhaps, the information that comes up is irrelevant, harmful or salacious. You might be entering the job market, getting married, or building a new life. Let’s take a look at this fascinating topic and all the options available to you.
Limiting your digital footprint has nothing to do with paranoia or the musings of an overactive mind. Consider the relentless number of cyberattacks that take place every single day. Perhaps hackers are following your breadcrumbs as we speak, perhaps it's corporations and their marketing departments, or worse yet the authorities. Assuming our innocence, why should we leave a digital footprint for any of these folks to follow?
It’s Not Paranoia; It’s Self-Preservation
Your thought processes are completely rational. Truth be told, there is nothing wrong with maintaining your privacy online. Your email communications should only be visible by you and the receiver. Your online purchases should only be visible by you and the merchant, et al.
It seems bizarre that in 2019 we are still having a discussion about online privacy when the world's greatest scientific minds are putting sophisticated reconnaissance vehicles on Mars, and we are close to uncovering panaceas for the most devastating illnesses.
Fortunately, VPNs are one of many effective tools in our ghost protocol resource kit. Virtual private networks help to mask our identities while we navigate the web. Before we get ahead of ourselves, let's backtrack a tad and take a look at some of the regulatory changes that are geared towards protecting our online privacy in the EU.
I Want to Be Forgotten – What Should I Do?
Ask yourself the following question: Do I want to reduce my online presence, remove my online presence or mask my online presence?
If we want to be forgotten, Google is a good place to start. It's the world's premier search engine, and a leading tech company. Unbeknownst to most, Google allows users to have their information removed from search engine results with the EU privacy removal form.
To get started, users must select their country of origin, enter their full legal name, contact email address, and state the legal relationship to the person on whose behalf the request is being made. Next, Google requires that users enter a URL for the content containing information which must be removed. This process is good for removing specific content online, but not for erasing your online presence.
It seems disingenuous that we have to provide personal information in order to be forgotten, but this data is not going to be visible to users on the web. You or I, or anyone in can request that specific results for search queries be removed from "Google Search", or from other Google products. It's a fine line that has to be walked by companies like Google since the public has a right to access certain information.
There are several steps involved, but the end result should prove satisfying to anyone wanting to remove false, inaccurate, irrelevant, or offensive content relating to their person. This is but one of many ways where you have a degree of control over your personal information on the internet. Unfortunately, for many folks this doesn't go far enough. I like to think of it as a useful tool to use in combination with other tools you will be introduced to in this article.
The internet may appear to have a life of its own, but it is the sum total of its parts. These include search engines, websites, crawlers, applications, and servers, among others. There are many incremental steps that you can take to achieve ghost protocol status on the internet, but if information is no longer indexed by a search engine, it's very difficult to find, effectively ‘cloaking’ it from public view.
Enshrining The Right To Be Forgotten
The right to be forgotten became law in 2014, when a Spaniard named Mario Costeja wanted old information about his financial affairs to be removed from Google and took them to court. The European Court of Justice sided with Mario. Now, in the EU information that is deemed excessive, inadequate, irrelevant, or inaccurate can be delisted from search engine results when searching for a person's name. Google has grudgingly complied the ruling.
The crux of the ruling has been incorporated into the EU General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR). So, here's how the legislation works: Information can be removed if it negatively impacts an individual's privacy more than the public's right to that knowledge. It's definitely a fine balancing act, but one which privacy advocates across Europe are winning.
EU GDPR data protection rules apply to personal information, how it is used, and reused. Companies offering goods or services to individuals in the EU – regardless of where the companies are based – must request consent from users to use their data. The language must be clear and unambiguous. Companies are mandated to provide detailed information about how they will be handling your data. This includes why they're keeping it, how long they intend to keep it and what your rights are. The T&C must indicate how the data will be processed and disseminated. If you don't agree to all of these conditions, they cannot provide services to you.
Now for the fun part: The right to be forgotten. If you don't feel that your personal data should be kept by a company, you can ask for that data to be erased. Simply follow the rules listed above by presenting the company with the URL and the specific information you would like removed.
Let's say that you live in Spain, Portugal, Italy, France, Germany or any other European country and you don’t want any trace of your social media presence on search engines. You can simply request that social media sites and search engines remove your personal data. This is exercising your right to be forgotten in Europe.
If your request to be removed is based on past behavior which included nefarious conduct on your part – that information will not be removed. For example, let's say that you were involved in a Ponzi scheme, or were convicted of financial fraud, surely then, the public's right to know this information is more important than your privacy considerations.
Going To Extreme Measures To Safeguard Your Online Privacy
In any event, it's important to safeguard your personal online information as much as possible. It takes a little snooping around in your digital accounts to learn how to set their features for maximum privacy and control over your online footprint.
If you're concerned about privacy, you probably want to remove accounts on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, Instagram, Skype, Whatsapp, and other social media services. If removal is a little too extreme, ensure that you opt for maximum privacy on your social media accounts. For example, you can make your tweets private and only visible to people you approve.
All of this can be a little overwhelming, but it’s easily done. Once you've started cleaning up your online footprint, you may find it useful to mask your online presence with various tools like VPNs with Kill Switches to hide your IP address, use privacy mode (incognito) in your browser, and log out of search engines and all other applications.
Follow this advice, and you will definitely enjoy far greater online privacy.