Last month in a case pitting Google against data privacy campaigners, Europe’s top court the ECJ (Court of Justice of the European Union) confirmed on the 15th May that Internet firms around the world can be legally compelled to remove certain personal information from search engine results if requested by the individual (or by a court on their behalf).
The ECJ upheld the complaint of a European man who objected to Google generating results via searches on his name with links to an online article uploaded 16 years ago about his home being repossessed.
The EU Court decided that Google does not have the right to hold, and continue to show, certain information on individuals if they have requested it be removed from their results pages. Further more if Google (or any other internet company e.g. Facebook) refuses to remove the information then a court can intervene and force them to remove information.
Is this a good thing?
Well the supporters of privacy rights will probably say a resounding “Yes” to this and say that people should have the “right to be forgotten” and have (certain) digitised data removed from the Web (and not archived or indexed by search engines or other companies).
The ruling stated that it will be up to the individual to prove that the data about them found online is:
“inadequate, irrelevant or no longer relevant, or excessive in relation to the purposes for which they were processed and in the light of the time that has elapsed”
Google responded to the ruling saying it was disappointed with the EU Court’s decision and that it contradicted a non-binding opinion from the ECJ in 2013 which stated that deleting sensitive information from search results would interfere with freedom of expression.
Al Verney, a Google spokesman in Brussels commented “…We now need to take time to analyze the implications…”
Understandably Google, Facebook and alike will be worried about the extra costs of policing such a system and having to redevelop their systems to identify who is a private individual and who a public figure (not too difficult if they are on Google+ with a verified account I guess!).
We do find it strange that Google deems it ok to disregard an individual’s requests to remove access to any damaging data held but hide behind data privacy for their own benefit when it comes to recording keyword traffic in website owners Analytics accounts.
Google released a form enabling people to send in removal requests – check it out here:
The highest court in Europe comes to the conclusion that an individual has the “right to be forgotten” and when asked by that individual then the Internet company must clear its server(s) of any embarrassing or reputation damaging content of a personal nature.