The Haidian District Court of Beijing recently denied an employees’ request to remove the link between his name and that of his previous employer, which has a notorious reputation for being involved in fraud. This is the first case in China to deal with the “right to be forgotten”.

The employee worked for an educational institution in Wuxi (“Wuxi Company”) from July 2014 to November 2014. In April 2015, the employee undertook a search on a website of an internet company which provides internet search services to the public (“Internet Company”), and found that by entering his name as a search term, the results included many references to the Wuxi Company, and by entering the Wuxi Company’s name, information about the fraud would be listed.

The employee later sued the Internet Company and requested that it delete the link to some damaging key words, apologize to the employee and compensate his loss. The employee asserted that the Wuxi Company had a negative reputation within the education industry and that he had not actually worked for that company. The employee alleged that  the Internet Company had violated his right of reputation, right to his name and his right to be forgotten, which should be a part of his general personality rights, by linking his name to the Wuxi Company.

However, the court ruled that there was no intention on the part of the Internet Company to humiliate or disparage the employee.  The search results were automatically produced by the search engine based on algorithmic technology. Therefore the Internet Company did not violate the employee’s right to his name. The court further held that the information that the employee had requested to be deleted was directly related to him and the right he asserted is not a part of the scope of personality rights provided in China’s Civil Code. In conclusion, the court rejected all of the employee’s claims.

In a separate privacy-related case in Guangzhou, a local court ruled that the employer had violated employees’ privacy rights by arranging for them to have a hepatitis B examination and then publishing the examination results.

Key Take-Away Points:

Generally speaking, awareness of privacy concerns is on the increase in China particularly among employees. It seems that courts in China are increasingly more willing to rule on cases involving privacy breaches.

Employers should ensure they follow the relevant data privacy legislation when dealing with employees’ personal information particularly in light of the fact that employees are prepared to protect their rights through the judicial process.