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More doctors wanting to remove “unflattering” web links

17 July 2014

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Increasing numbers of doctors are seeking to remove unwanted search results from online search engines, it has been revealed. 

According to the Medical Defence Union (MDU), some doctors are finding that online searches of their name brings up “unfavourable or unflattering” stories, such as a past General Medical Council investigation.

Individuals have a right to ask search engine operators, such as Google, to remove particular search results because of privacy or if they are deemed to be inadequate, irrelevant or excessive, according to a recent rulling from the Court of Justice of European Union.

Advice for doctors has been released by the MDU on the implications of the ruling.

MDU head of advisory services, Dr Caroline Fryar said: “The recent European court ruling is good news for doctors as it means they can apply to Google and other search engine operators to request the removal of certain results on privacy grounds.

“However, we urge a note of caution as it remains to be seen whether requests to remove results will be successful given that decisions will be taken on a case by case basis, balancing the public interest with the right to privacy.

“It is also important to remember that the actual web pages and documents will not be removed from the internet, only the opportunity to access them via a search engine link. The judgment also only applies to EU countries. Users may still be able to navigate to the particular page by using a completely different search term or the same search term entered into a search engine outside the EU. 

“Ultimately, the understandable desire to have a website link erased needs to be balanced against recognition that achieving this may not be the end of the matter and may itself attract comment. Members with queries about online criticism are welcome to contact us for advice.”