The highest court in the EU has created a major headache for Google – and content providers around the world – by ruling consumers already have the right force firms to delete search data held on them, even if it is correct.
The EU Court of Justice decision on the “right to be forgotten” goes against its own legal advice issued last year. And it has not only got Google chiefs reaching for the extra-strength painkillers; it “opens a can of worms on the entire communications industry”, according to one expert.
Instead of operating as a single forum for other people’s information, Google – and potentially companies like Facebook and Twitter – will need to become more actively involved in dealing with complaints from users in the 28 EU countries.
The companies must assume the responsibility and cost for removing that information if requested to do so by national data protection regulators on behalf of consumers making complaints.
The judgment relates to a Spanish man who demanded Google remove a link to a negative press report about him. It was based on the 1995 EU Data Protection Directive, due to be replaced by the new EU General Data Protection Regulation, currently making slow progress through Brussels.
However, the new laws include a much tougher right to be forgotten, or “erasure” as it is called in the draft legislation, that also would apply to companies like Facebook.
And Richard Cumbley, a London-based partner at the law firm Linklaters, said: “Given that the EU has spent two years debating this right as part of the reform of privacy legislation, it is ironic that the court has found it already exists in such a striking manner.”
But others believe the ruling has much wider implications, especially for content providers. European Data Protection supervisor Peter Hustinx said: “This sounds like a landmark judgment. The court is saying that Google isn’t just selling adverts in Europe, it’s providing content along with those services. If you are a regular citizen, it gives you a remedy anywhere in Europe for you to ask companies to take down content connected to you.’’
Meanwhile, Bell Pottinger Wired partner and managing director James Thomlinson claimed the ruling not only makes for an unrealistic web, but it also “opens up a can of worms on the entire communications industry”.
He added: “It will come at significant cost to Google and other major content providers as they prepare to deal with increased customer requests and areas of uncertainty.
“The lack of clarity from the court on relevancy of results and whether or not this ruling applies to individuals in companies or even an entire brand’s reputation, will have lawyers up and down the country rubbing their hands in glee.”
The judgment reversed a preliminary victory for Google in June 2013, when an adviser to the court, Niilo Jaaskinen, issued an opinion implying that Google did not need to remove the links.
Because the European Court of Justice is the highest court in the European Union, Google cannot appeal against the decision.
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