Internet privacy protection—-the right to be forgotten


With the advent of the digital age, there’s a growing interest among people in sharing, creating, and engaging online. For instance, on social media platforms like Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook, individuals share stylish selfies, leave comments on friends’ posts, and interact with their favorite celebrities. However, as people interact and share more and more online, the risk of privacy breaches increases. At the same time, the content we share on these platforms is harvested by companies for commercial purposes without our awareness, posing a risk of privacy infringement (Flew,2021). Many apps require access to personal information for usage, further heightening concerns about privacy breaches. The concept of the “right to be forgotten” in the digital age has become crucial.

The right to be forgotten, also known as “the right to delete,” empowers individuals to request the removal of links to potentially embarrassing or sensitive content from search results. It’s both a legal entitlement and a fundamental human right (Rosen,2011). In today’s internet landscape, advancements in information storage have rendered forgetting nearly obsolete, replacing it with a perpetually accessible digital memory. The right to be forgotten serves as a valuable mechanism for safeguarding personal privacy. It not only reinforces citizens’ basic rights but also sets limits on the powers of Internet entities.

Definition– The right to be forgotten

Privacy is a fundamental right that everyone should enjoy, encompassing protection from intrusion, interference, and discrimination. It creates a secure space for individuals, shielding their private lives and information from external interference and allowing for the free use of personal data. While the concept of privacy may vary across different national constitutions due to cultural, historical, and philosophical differences, the safeguarding of privacy has become a global consensus.

In the digital age, the right to be forgotten has emerged as a crucial right for individuals in cyberspace, especially as the risk of privacy infringement increases. Also known as the right to be deleted, this right gives users the right to ask the data controller to delete personal information without prejudice to the public’s right to know. Essentially, users have the prerogative to terminate or prevent the use, dissemination, or disclosure of their data online or elsewhere, by requesting its complete deletion from data collectors and users.

This citizen’s right was initially proposed by the European Union in 1995 through relevant data protection laws, allowing any citizen to request the deletion of their data when it’s no longer necessary. Subsequently, California passed similar legislation, compelling technology companies to delete personal privacy information upon user request. Moreover, following a ruling by the European Union’s top court, Google began removing specific content from its search results, granting users the “right to be forgotten”(Wechsler, 2015).

The right to be forgotten encompasses two main powers:

  • 1. Right to delete content: Individuals have the right to request network service providers to remove network content containing their personal information.
  • 2. Right to de-index content: Individuals have the right to request search service providers to cease indexing original web content containing their personal information (Van Calster & Apers, 2018).

Both these powers are essential components of the right to be forgotten, aiming to protect individuals’ privacy rights in the digital realm.

Why is ‘the right to be forgotten’ important

Memory has become the default, and forgetting the exception

—Douglas Coupland

In a society where the lines between public and private realms are increasingly blurred, the right to be forgotten emerges as a crucial safeguard for our privacy. Drawing from Erving Goffman’s analogy, life resembles a theatrical performance, where we project a “front stage” persona to the world while reserving a more authentic “backstage” self for private contemplation. In navigating our daily interactions, we meticulously cultivate a favorable “front stage” image to garner recognition and respect, yet simultaneously, we cherish the sanctuary of our private “backstage” for introspection, self-discovery, and emotional processing. However, with the advent of the digital age, the line between the public image we create and the backstage, private image is blurring, and what is published on public platforms may unintentionally damage the public image. At this time, we need the right to be forgotten to help us restore our privacy space and re-establish the private sphere that belongs to individuals

The right to be forgotten is also the embodiment of social acceptance and tolerance. A mature society should give a certain amount of room for correction, allowing people to mend their ways and start over. The same rule applies in cyberspace, where we cannot judge a person’s morality based solely on an inappropriate statement that the speaker may not be aware of. This right to be forgotten in digital space gives wrongdoers a second chance and prevents more serious and irrational cyberbullying. Just as society will provide additional employment opportunities and employment subsidies in consideration of the employment difficulties of offenders after serving their sentences, to reduce the number of offenders who have no choice but to commit crimes again, the right to be forgotten is also a measure to give offenders a chance and maintain the stability of cyberspace.

In the era of big data, our privacy and individual data may be collected and exploited by Internet companies without our knowledge. Inappropriate use of these data may make the original context of use be ignored, resulting in misunderstanding. It is like taking a statement out of context in a news report, taking only a part of it, and ignoring the qualifications mentioned above to make people misunderstand it. That’s why it’s so important to have ways to protect our data from being misused. When we talk about “forgetting” in this context, it means we have control over what information is out there about us. It’s like saying, “I don’t want this information about me to be known anymore.” This helps us keep our identity safe from being messed with by others.

How is ‘the right to be forgotten’ implemented

People’s right to delete personal information and exercise the right to be forgotten needs to be supported. The data subject retains the right to request the data controller to permanently erase personal data concerning them, essentially exercising the right to be forgotten within the Internet, unless there exist valid justifications for data retention. This signifies that users hold the entitlement to terminate or evade the utilization, dissemination, or exposure of their data across the Internet or other platforms by requesting the complete deletion of such data from data collectors and users. For instance, a Spanish citizen who conducted a Google search of his name in 2011 stumbled upon a La Vanguardia article detailing his auction of property to settle social security debts. Subsequently, he petitioned Google and the Herald to expunge the information on the grounds of its “outdated and irrelevant” nature. The ensuing controversy prompted the European Court of Justice to rule that Google, as an information controller, was mandated to remove links under specific conditions. The court decreed that individuals possess the right to request search engines to obliterate web search results and links utilizing their names as keywords if their rights are infringed or if they oppose the continued processing of the information unless there exists a legal basis for the information’s continued retention (Columbia University in the City of New York, 2024).

Anonymization serves as another avenue to safeguard the user’s right to be forgotten. Anonymization denotes the technical manipulation of personal data to render the identification of data subjects impossible, and the processed information irrevocably irretrievable. An exemplary instance is the anonymous posting feature on Facebook. When the pertinent information disclosed by the data subject has been anonymized, it becomes detached from specific entities, obviating the necessity for invoking the right to be forgotten. In this regard, anonymization, akin to the right to delete, aims to shield data subjects. Furthermore, anonymized information precludes the adverse repercussions of diminishing data volume and impeding the progression of the data economy engendered by the right to delete.

It is imperative to acknowledge the distinction between anonymization and the right to be forgotten, and their respective applicability contingent upon users’ specific requirements, rather than exploiting one as a pretext to supplant the other.

Constraints of ‘the right to be forgotten’

(Adem AY, 2021)

The right to be forgotten is not an absolute prerogative and must not encroach upon freedom of expression or imperil public interest. For instance, in the aforementioned case involving the Herald newspaper, the court declined to endorse the request for eradicating pertinent information from the information publisher, the Herald, citing potential infringement upon freedom of expression and the public’s right to information. Simultaneously, in the “Ren v. Baidu” case in China, Ren filed a lawsuit against Baidu for the content and links about “Dow Education Ren” and similar terms on its search engine, contending that Baidu violated his general personality rights (including the right to be forgotten) and petitioning the court to compel Baidu to expunge the aforementioned keywords. Ren, an educator, had severed ties with Dow Education in November 2014, following which he encountered numerous search results linking him to Dow Education in April 2015. Ren argued that these search results tarnished his name and reputation, violating his rights to name, reputation, and general personality, and demanded the deletion of pertinent information to safeguard his “right to be forgotten.” However, the court abstained from safeguarding the right to be forgotten, deeming it a non-legal entitlement, and prioritized the public’s right to information. Consequently, it deemed the claim for the deletion of information deemed “forgotten” (erased) by a specific claim as lacking legitimate interests warranting legal protection. Thus, it is evident that the “right to be forgotten” is not an absolute entitlement, and its protection ought to be exercised judiciously to avoid compromising freedom of expression and the public’s right to information(People’s Daily Online,2016).

In the era of big data, the right to be forgotten may only delete superficial data, and cannot fundamentally delete metadata about personal privacy. In the Internet era, the storage of personal privacy is often not simple surface data such as a home address, age, activity tracking, etc., but a kind of interconnected metadata that is manifested as features, attributes, and relationships. Such data cannot simply be deleted through the right to be forgotten. At the same time, the deletion of a large amount of information will also bring a great burden to the Internet platform or company, which may cause unnecessary damage and hinder its development. Despite these challenges and limitations, the right to be forgotten remains an important tool for users to protect their privacy in the Internet age.


In the Internet era, the right to be forgotten is an important tool for personal privacy protection. In the face of the unequal rights structure between users and platforms in big data collection, the right to be forgotten gives individuals the right to maintain private space, gives those who make mistakes the opportunity to start over, and more importantly, reduces the possibility of abuse and distortion of personal information. As the collection of personal data becomes more common in the future, users need to protect this means of erasing past information and regaining control over their digital identity.

At the same time, the exercise of the right to be forgotten is not without premises and negative effects. Such deletion of personal information should be based on the premise of satisfying the public’s right to know. The right to be forgotten may also impose a burden on the platform, resulting in a lack of public access to information. How to balance the positive meaning of the right to be forgotten with the restrictions on its use will become an important issue in the future.

Reference list

Columbia University in the City of New York. (2024). Global Freedom of Expression

Flew, T. (2021). Issues of Concern. In T. Flew, Regulating platforms  (pp. 72–79). Polity.

People’s Daily Online. (2016). A brief analysis of the “right to be forgotten” in the context of big data

Rosen, J. (2011). The right to be forgotten. Stan. L. Rev. Online64, 88.

Van Calster, G., Gonzalez Arreaza, A., & Apers, E. (2018). Not just one, but many ‘ Rights to be Forgotten’. Internet Policy Review7(2), 1-18.

Wechsler, S. (2015). The right to remember: the European Convention on human rights and the right to be forgotten. Colum. JL & Soc. Probs.49, 135.

Thought Catalog. (2018). the emotions behind abandoning Facebook[Photo]. Unsplash.


Adem AY. (2021). White and pink digital device photo [Photo]. Unsplash.

Brock Cooper. (2022). Google And The Right To Be Forgotten [Image]Search Engine Journal.

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