It has been five years since My Clean Slate launched its “delisting service”, trying to repair people’s online reputations. Over that time it has dealt with hundreds of clients. What are the lessons? One clear lesson is perseverance.
We have a success rate of 80% and we take clients from all walks of life from individuals who work for big corporations players to regular folk who have seen their reputations shredded. We give advice about the likelihood of success on a case-by-case basis. But if people want to go ahead we take all available steps to assert their their right to be delisted, their right to be forgotten.
The most important lesson is not to give up at the first sign of resistance. The first step for delisting is always to contact the search engines themselves and this, most often, succeeds. If they push back, we go to the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) that regulates the search engines. In exceptional cases, we have taken cases to expert solicitors who can take the matter to court.
Here is an example. In July 2021, we were approached by a young man who had an unusual name. He was trying to get a new job but kept getting refused because of his online reputation.
His reputation was in tatters because another man with the same unusual name had been arrested after committing a lewd act in public. This event was filmed and went viral. When people Googled our client’s name, these video clips, stories and images would appear which was both humiliating for our client personally, but also prevented him getting him the job of his dreams.
We approached Google who refused to remove the vast majority of the offending and offensive links. It took them over a month to reach a decision and their reasons centred on the fact that the URLs referred to another man, and not our client even though they shared the same name. There was no public interest in keeping the links available. They were extremely vulgar and very out of date. Google often confuse the public interest with what interests the public.
We wrote back to Google with an explanation beside each URL of why it violated out client’s reputational rights, but they would not remove the offending content.
We turned to the ICO and explained our complaint to them. In February 2022, they came back to us and explained that they did not think that Google had breached any data protection laws and so would not take any action.
We then threw our last dice and appealed the ICO’s decision to the ICO themselves. This is something we have done only a few times, but in most cases we have succeeded in changing their minds. Unfortunately they stuck with their decision on this occasion.
We had run out of options for resolving this matter without court action so we turned to solicitors who specialise in media law and have been very successful in bringing delisting claims against Google. They agreed to take the case on using a conditional fee agreement (sometimes called a no win-no fee agreement). After writing a letter before action and threatening court proceedings, Google finally capitulated and agreed to remove the offending URLs.
It took a lot of time and effort but the end result was worth it. We did all this for a flat rate fee of £250 which has not increased since we launched in 2018.
Fortunately, most cases are resolved satisfactorily and quickly. In this case, perseverance paid off. And the result has been life-changing for our client, and very satisfying for us.
Full details of My Clean Slate’s services can be found here
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