Privacy 1, Google 0: European Union Court Tells Google to Forget Search Results

Source: Thinkstock

Source: Thinkstock

Internet users in Europe have no need to fear that a news story from 20 years ago or a decade old MySpace photo they find when they use Google (NASDAQ:GOOG)(NASDAQ:GOOGL) search to see what comes up on them. The European Union Court of Justice, essentially the Supreme Court of the European Union, ruled that users have the right to ask that they be removed from search results. The document issued by the court on the decision says the individuals have the right to contact Google and have search results removed at their request.

“Thus, if, following a search made on the basis of a person’s name, the list of results displays a link to a web page which contains information on the person in question, that data subject may approach the operator directly and, where the operator does not grant his request, bring the matter before the competent authorities in order to obtain, under certain conditions, the removal of that link from the list of results.”

Google was not happy with the decision, calling it censorship. A representative told CNET it was a disappointment. “This is a disappointing ruling for search engines and online publishers in general. We are very surprised that it differs so dramatically from the Advocate General’s opinion and the warnings and consequences that he spelled out. We now need to take time to analyze the implications,” said a Google representative.

BBC reported that campaign group Index on Censorship said the decision “violates the fundamental principles of freedom of expression,” in its coverage of the court decision.

The court acknowledges that the conflict in the case was an individual’s right to privacy versus the public’s need for information. As European courts tend to favor privacy rights or as the court called it in this case, “right to be forgotten,” it is not surprising which side won the case. That concept was also introduced by the European Commission in a set of potential data privacy laws in 2012 reports CNET.

The reasoning behind the decision is that what shows up on the first few pages of a Google search may reflect individual events out of context. One example in the CNET piece is when an individual is arrested, but no charges are pressed. A Google search may bring up that first part without the second part, giving a different impression of the person in question. It may also bring up Facebook or even MySpace photos from a person’s teen or college years that they no longer have control over.

While the jurisdiction of the court extends in geographic terms only to the European Union, it will affect American websites, too. Facebook, Google, and other websites are accessed in those countries, making them subject to the aftereffects of this ruling.

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