Should you be allowed to delete yourself from the internet?

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What if a search of your name leads to things you don't want anyone to see?

That's the dilemma facing a 30-year-old woman in New York who has fallen victim to revenge porn. The anonymous woman - who we'll call Ms X - was secretly filmed by her then-boyfriend while they were having sex.

After their three-month relationship ended in November 2015, the boyfriend uploaded the footage without her consent to many revenge porn websites.

All of the videos referenced her unusual, probably unique West African name, and she claims she has found herself unable to get a job as a result.

She's now suing the world's biggest search engines - Google, Bing and Yahoo - in an attempt to get a blanket ban on her name from showing up at all in searches.

Ms X's lawyer Ryanne Konan explains that the experience has traumatised his client.

"She hasn't been the same, she's been affected, she's just desperate for help. She can't even apply for jobs anymore and she doesn't know what her future's going to be like," Konan tells BBC Trending radio.


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Konan managed to get the footage removed from some porn websites, but the ex-boyfriend would simply upload the videos elsewhere - and thus her name would reappear in search results.

The search engines do have systems for reporting revenge porn, but Konan says they don't work.

"We did that. But they just didn't care. They didn't take anything off. So we decided to do something stronger so they would pay attention to us," he says.

The three search engines account for over 85% of visitors to the average web page, according to the European Commission.

If the case is successful - which legal experts say is unlikely - not only would the revenge porn footage be hidden, but everything else about Ms X online would be too. Nonetheless, Konan and Ms X feel they need to take drastic action to clear her name.

Since launching the case against the search giants, Konan has been contacted by other revenge porn victims. He told Trending he's now considering a class action lawsuit.

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Filmmaker Cynthia Lowen has met many victims of online harassment in the course of making her upcoming documentary Netizens.

"The ways women are targeted online are very different from the ways in which men are targeted online," Lowen says. "When you take something like non-consensual pornography, women are by and large the majority of the targets... It is much easier to humiliate, harm, harass and destroy a woman's career [and] education through non-consensual pornography than it is for a man."

Although many US states have laws against revenge porn, New York State is not one of them. Ms X's ex-boyfriend has not been charged with a crime.


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The US doesn't have a a law similar to the European "right to be forgotten". In 2014, the European Court of Justice ruled that citizens could request that inaccurate, old or irrelevant personal information be deleted from search results.

The pages are not removed from the Google index entirely, nor are they deleted from the internet. Instead, searches of certain names won't uncover particular web pages. The BBC regularly publishes a list of stories that have been removed from Google results on its internet blog.

"We have a kind of unfortunate tendency in the US to think of privacy and freedom of speech to be in conflict with one another," says Mary Anne Franks, a law professor at the University of Miami. "Whereas I think in Europe it's fair to say that they're seen as being more connected with each other - that people's personal rights of dignity and expression are very closely intertwined."

Even so, the blanket removal that Konan and Ms X is asking for goes well beyond the European law. According to Joe McNamee, Executive Director of the European Digital Rights group, forcing search engines to deindex people would set a dangerous precedent.

"It makes a degree of sense in her case, but imagine if anybody could do that," he says. "If somebody was running for public office, they could erase any link between their name and any information that should be in the public domain."

Trending contacted all three search engines named in the suit - none would comment on the possibility of getting a name deindexed from their sites. Google and Bing pointed us towards their revenge porn reporting forms, and a guide to reporting revenge porn across all major search engines and social networks can be found here.

As for Ms X, Konan explained to BBC Trending that all she really wants to do now is get on with her life.

"We're not seeking for any money, all she wants is to be left alone. In my lawsuit we're not saying they're liable for anything - we're just asking them to do something," he says.

Blog by Alex Dackevych

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