How ‘landmark’ right to be forgotten case will change Google search results

Search giant wins four-year legal battle against tougher privacy laws

Google ruling
(Image credit: Leon Neal/Getty Images)

The EU’s highest court has ruled that Google does not have to remove links to personal data from its worldwide search results.

The judgment by the European Court of Justice (ECJ) brings to an end a four-year dispute between the search giant and French privacy regulator CNIL, the BBC reports.

In 2015, CNIL ordered Google to remove links to pages containing “damaging or false information about a person” from its global search results under the “right to be forgotten” laws, the broadcaster says.

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Google introduced a “geoblocking” feature the following year, preventing users in Europe from viewing “delisted links”.

But it refused to censor search results for users in other parts of the world and contested a €100,000 (£88,100) fine issued by the French privacy watchdog, says The Verge.

“There is no obligation under EU law, for a search engine operator who grants a request for de-referencing made by a data subject… to carry out such a de-referencing on all the versions of its search engine,” the ECJ’s ruling said.

While the court’s decision means that Google is not under obligation to remove links from global searches that fall under the right to be forgotten laws, the company is still required to censor results for users in Europe.

What is the “right to be forgotten”?

The right to be forgotten was introduced by the ECJ in 2014 as a means of erasing “irrelevant and outdated material” in Europe, The Daily Telegraph explains.

In principle, the rights mean that any “embarrassing or incorrect information” about an individual, such as their “sexual history or criminal convictions”, that is available online can be erased upon request, the newspaper says.

In the case of Google’s dispute with CNIL, the French privacy watchdog said that the “international nature of the internet” could result in a person’s reputation being affected even if their personal information is deleted from search results in their region, the paper adds.

Google, on the other hand, argues that authoritarian governments could abuse right to be forgotten laws if they were policed outside of the European Union, to “cover up human rights abuses”, The Guardian says.

How will the ruling affect Google search results?

The Telegraph claims that the case was a “test” to see if the EU could “extend its laws beyond its borders” and whether a person could remove their personal information from the global web “without stifling free speech”.

With the ruling going in Google’s favour, the company needs to remove links to sensitive information only from European search results after receiving a takedown request from an EU citizen. Therefore, the information would still be visible in search results made by users outside of the EU.

There was a “second ruling”, which stated that tech companies are not “automatically” required to remove links just because they contain information about someone’s sex life or criminal convictions, the BBC says.

The ECJ, however, said that links that do not fall under the right to be forgotten laws, but are classified as containing sensitive information, should “fall down search result listings over time”, the broadcaster adds.

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