EU Decision in Google Search Info Removal Case Appalls Analysts

By Todd R. Weiss  |  Posted 2014-05-15 Print this article Print

At the same time, said Gardner, the EU decision is flawed because, while it would allow search engines to remove reference data from searches, it does nothing to remove the information from its original source, which could be a newspaper or magazine archive or any other content repository.

"It's troubling also because the content that people want to remove is still there," he said. "I think this is a misguided decision and that it has a disastrous effect on search results, which are very important tools."

For individuals who feel they have been wronged and then find that wrong in a search result, Gardner said he does have sympathy. Instead of requesting the removal of such information by Google or another search engine, that individual should instead take their complaint to a public agency that can correct any erroneous information, he said.

The EU court's decision may not have been only about the particular case that was before it, he said. "The fact is that Google has a PR problem [on privacy]. They have an image problem. People are able to have a perception of Google being a privacy invader" and that could be contributing to the over-reaction by the court in this case, he said.

Could policies like this eventually make their way to the United States?

Pund-IT's King said he doubts it. "It would require a sea change in legal and other attitudes here," he said. "To imagine a similar law that could be passed in the current Congress, and let alone get such a ruling from the courts here, would be highly unlikely."

In a reply to an inquiry from eWEEK about the information removal requests that Google has already reportedly received in the EU, a company spokesman told eWEEK in an email that "The ruling has significant implications for how we handle takedown requests. This is logistically complicated … because of the many languages involved and the need for careful review."

In its May 13 ruling on the matter, the full EU court said that Internet search engine operators are, in fact, responsible for the processing of personal data that appears on Web pages published by third parties and must remove or correct the information in some cases.

"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," the decision states.

In the 2013 case, a man in Spain had argued that Google searches of his name had uncovered a then-15-year-old announcement in a newspaper describing how a property he owned was up for auction because of nonpayment of Social Security, the court stated. The man wanted Google to remove the old information, which was damaging his reputation, according to the earlier case. The Spanish court originally accepted the man's argument and ordered Google to remove the information from its search results. Google then appealed that decision and received the favorable opinion from the Court of Justice adviser, who ruled that the original Spanish court decision was wrong.

The latest Court of Justice action, however, trumps the original opinion by the court's adviser. That means that Google and other search engine operators might have to make changes in such cases in the future and comply with some requests by individuals to remove old, outdated personal information.

Google has been in the legal cross hairs on privacy issues around the world for some time. In May 2012, French regulators accused Google of not being cooperative with investigators looking into privacy issues concerning the company and its practices there. France's National Commission for Computing and Civil Liberties (CNIL) had sent Google a questionnaire about the new privacy policy in March 2012, but the agency complained that Google's answers were "often incomplete or approximate." A follow-up survey also left questions remaining.


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