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I am a forum owner for a small community. We have a global audience but a community of only about 400 active users. Recently, I was sent a PDF version of Google's Right to be Forgotten form, filled out by one of our users. This user had left the community on a sour note about four months ago. During that period of time, one of our other users found and posted links to news articles related to the user. They were very unflattering.

I am based in Canada and my server is hosted in New York. I have no assets for this community in Europe. Unlike Google (or other large companies), I don't have a "European version" of my community where I can filter posts by geography, as this article mentions Google will be doing. My reaction is to ignore the message as it can't be enforced against me. However, I'd like to hear how others have handled a similar situation.

Am I correct to ignore this European specific law when I and my server are based in North America?

Correction: I've adjusted the title slightly. It looks like it was modified due to a misunderstanding. Sorry about that. I am based in North America. The user requesting to be forgotten is European, at least according to the IP address records I have (and I have no reason to doubt them). I've also readded added my links.

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    IANAL, but that also sounds like it is only based around search results, so I don't know that it applies to communities they posted content to actively. Pretty sure that would be governed by your ToS and conditions for submission. For example, on SE, you irrevocably release your posts to CC licensing, so you can't take them back. – AJ Henderson Nov 11 '14 at 15:09
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    @AJHenderson This isn't about removing that user's content, but about removing content about this user. A closer analogy on SE would be anonymizing an account (which SE does to some extent when the account is deleted), but SE doesn't really have the same problem because posts about a person would not normally be acceptable anyway. – Gilles 'SO- stop being evil' Nov 11 '14 at 16:16
  • @Gilles Fair point, though I still am not sure that even the EU law would apply as it isn't search results, but stuff actively provided. It sounded like the Google thing was more to block search results pointing to someone's information. – AJ Henderson Nov 11 '14 at 16:19
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Legally, you can certainly ignore this request. In some circumstances, it's possible that hosting content that is illegal in Europe this would make it illegal to provide access to your site, which could even lead to a court decision requiring ISPs to block access to your site. I don't know if it's even legally possible for that to happen for a denied right-to-be-forgotten request (I think it's happened for sites hosting child pornography), and anyway the effective likelihood for things to go that far is nil. Given that the complaint is from one disgruntled user, even if you were based in Europe, it's unlikely that they'd go far enough to get a court judgement against you.

A second point is that it isn't clear from your description and from my understanding of the law whether it applies in this case. The court ruling that sparked this (it's a court ruling, not a law — it's a consequence of European directives, mainly Directive 95/46/EC Article 12) applies to automated search engine, but human-curated content would be treated similarly: the point of the ruling is that linking to content about an individual bears similar responsibilities to hosting that content. Note that the ruling did not conclude the existence of a right to be forgotten — there's a discussion about this in the EU, but no law as yet. The ruling judged that the information was “inadequate, irrelevant or no longer relevant, or excessive in relation to the purposes of the processing at issue carried out by the operator of the search engine” (§94–99), in violation of Directive 95/46/EC Article 6. It was instrumental in the ruling that searching for the person's name brought up a disproportionate amount of links about the 1998 affair. Posts on an obscure forum would probably fall under the same category, since they'd have to be dug up.

I think that under current law, these forum posts wouldn't be affected, but they might be if the proposed right-to-be-forgotten legislation enters the books. Of course, this is not legal advice, this the uninformed opinion of some guy on the Internet who just spend 5 minutes reading Wikipedia.

If the links are to news articles which are incorrect, they might fall under libel law, which is a different kettle of fish altogether.

Beyond the legal issue, a smear campaign is rarely pretty. Whether the guy is genuinely an asshole or not, it's probably better for the well-being of the forum to cut it down. If nothing else, it sets a bad climate, showing to newcomers who've never heard of the guy that it's ok to make personal attacks on people. My advice would be to let it go quietly. If the posting of news articles was a one-time thing, either delete the thread or let it remain forgotten somewhere, depending on whether deletion is something you normally do. If it's recurrent, put a stop to it, gently, telling people they surely have something better to do thatn discuss a user who's left months after he's left.

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