Opinion: Canadians support right to petition search engines to remove information

In the European Union, citizens have the right to request that search engines remove information about them that is outdated, inaccurate, or no longer relevant from search results.

This “right to be forgotten” was the product of a 2014 court case brought by Mario Costeja González, a Spanish man who wanted Google to stop showing news articles about his long-resolved financial troubles when people searched his name.

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As Canada’s Privacy Commissioner seeks a court decision on whether Canadians have this same right, a new study by the Angus Reid Institute finds Canadians generally supportive of importing the doctrine.

Nearly one-in-five Canadian adults (18 per cent) – the equivalent of roughly five million people – know someone who has a problem similar to González’s, with negative information following them around online.

Further, fully half of Canadians (51 per cent) say they believe people should have the right to have certain information about themselves removed from search results, and a slightly larger number (56 per cent) would support legislation enshrining the right to be forgotten in Canadian law.

According to the Angus Reid study, 26 per cent of respondents agreed that Internet searches are a form of public record and erasing negative information is still erasing history and facts. About 23 per cent said they were not sure about their opinion on the issue.

More key findings from the poll include:

• Only two per cent of Canadians say they themselves have had negative information from their past follow them online, but many more know someone who has. Among those under age 35, nearly three-in-ten (29 per cent) have at least an acquaintance who could benefit from the right to be forgotten.

• While the majority of Canadians know little about the concept of the right to be forgotten, awareness and support for legislation on this matter increases among younger people.

• The belief that people should have the right to be forgotten is consistent regardless of whether one has heard of the issue or not.

More information on the poll can be found at www.angusreid.org/right-to-be-forgotten.

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