European High Court Orders Google To 'Forget' Some Users
May 13, 2014

European High Court Orders Google To ‘Forget’ Some Users

Peter Suciu for - Your Universe Online

The highest court in Europe ruled on Tuesday that people have a "right to be forgotten" and that search giant Google is responsible for removing sensitive information from Internet search results. The Court of Justice of the European Union ruled that Google and other search engine providers can thus be ordered to delete links to so-called "outdated information" about individuals.

In an official document, the court found, "An internet search engine operator is responsible for the processing that it carries out of personal data which appear on web pages published by third parties."

As a result Internet users who want Google and other search engines to "forget" them can file a request directly with the operator of the search engine.

This follows a 2010 case filed by a Spanish national, Mario Costeja González, who lodged a case with the Agencia Española de Protección de Datos (Spanish Data Protection Agency, the AEPD) against Vanguardia Ediciones SL (the publisher of a daily newspaper with a large circulation in Spain, in particular in Catalonia) and against Google Spain and Google Inc. González contended that when an Internet user entered his name in the search engine the list of results included links to two pages of the newspaper.

These pages included an announcement for a real-estate auction that was organized following attachment proceedings for the recovery of social security debts. González argued that the matter had been resolved so its digital footprint should be erased both by the publisher in question and by Google, which provided the links to the outdated information.

On Tuesday, the Court of Justice agreed and found, "by searching automatically, constantly and systematically for information published on the internet, the operator of a search engine 'collects' data within the meaning of the directive. The Court considers, furthermore, that the operator, within the framework of its indexing programmes, 'retrieves', 'records' and 'organises'."

Google is reportedly "very surprised" by this ruling, which apparently goes against the opinion of the EU advocate general. Last year the advocate general said there was actually no universal right to be forgotten, PCWorld reports.

"This is a disappointing ruling for search engines and online publishers in general," a Google spokesman said in an emailed statement, as reported in another PC World article. The tech giant added it will need time to analyze the implications of the EU court's ruling.

Already this decision has garnered a lot of media attention and critics suggest it could create issues for free speech online.

Tech Crunch's Steve O'Hara wrote on Tuesday, "Making Google - and its search engine ilk - responsible for the content it indexes is a slippery slope to say the least and could have multiple ramifications around the censorship of all sorts of 'data'. (Safe harbour, anyone?)

"Instead, what should probably happen is that Google’s spiders simply respect information that has been removed or de-indexed by the originating source online, following a privacy offence under EU law," O'Hara added. "That said, this does get awfully complex when you consider things like Google cache, or noble projects like Internet Archive's Wayback Machine, regardless of where you sit in the debate between right to privacy and freedom of speech."

However, others are hailing it as a victory for privacy.

"Today's court judgment is a clear victory for the protection of personal data of Europeans," Viviane Reding, the EU's justice commissioner, posted on her Facebook page, as reported by USA Today. "Companies can no longer hide behind their servers being based in California or anywhere else."

"There are fundamental issues involved regarding who on the Internet makes decisions about what content can be seen and how long for," Ruth Collard, an expert on media law at London-based legal firm Carter Ruck, told USA Today. "The ruling might have particular relevance to young people, who find that something embarrassing posted in their school or student days has continuing repercussions as they grow older, perhaps affecting the view potential employers take of them."