Europe’s Top Court Rules Google Must Remove ‘Inaccurate’ Data

Alphabet’s Google has been instruct it has to remove data from online search results if users can prove it is inaccurate.

According to Reuters Europe’s top court, the Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU) issued the ruling about a ‘right to be forgotten’ case, concerning two executives from a group of investment companies.

The two executives had reportedly asked Google to remove search results linking their names to certain articles criticising the group’s investment model.

User evidence

The executives also wanted Google to remove thumbnail photos of them from its search results.

Google however rejected the requests, saying it did not know whether the information in the articles was accurate or not.

According to Reuters, a German court subsequently sought advice from the CJEU on the balance between the right to be forgotten and the right to freedom of expression and information.

“The operator of a search engine must de-reference information found in the referenced content where the person requesting de-referencing proves that such information is manifestly inaccurate,” the Court of Justice of the European Union was quoted by Reuters as saying.

To avoid an excessive burden on users, judges said such proof does not have to come from a judicial decision against website publishers.

Indeed, users only have to provide evidence that can reasonably be required of them to find.

Google reportedly said the links and thumbnails in question were no longer available through web search and image search and that the content had been offline for a long time.

“Since 2014, we’ve worked hard to implement the right to be forgotten in Europe, and to strike a sensible balance between people’s rights of access to information and privacy,” a spokesperson said.

Right to be forgotten

The case highlights the EU’s ‘right to be forgotten’ that was made into law in May 2014, when the Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU) ruled that search engine operators (such as Google, Bing etc) were responsible for links to web pages that contained personal information, and should therefore remove such links on request of the information owners.

Google for its part had previously protested against the law, but later began publishing transparency reports to show how it was (reluctantly) complying with the CJEU order.

Google was inundated with millions of “right to be forgotten” requests since 2014, when the “right to be forgotten” was instituted following a court case in Spain.

Then in 2018, the EU’s right to be forgotten was enshrined in law under Article 17 of the GDPR (General Data Protection Regulation).

However it also stated that the right to be forgotten could be excluded where the processing of personal data was necessary for the exercise of the right of information.

In 2019 it seemed that the Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU) undermined the regulation by finding in Google’s favour in a court case. Many industry watchers called this ruling the end anonymity and clear the way for more censorship.

That 2019 ruling was a significant victory for Google and other campaigners, who have long argued that the EU’s right to be forgotten law when it is applied globally, would encourage censorship by oppressive regimes.

That particular case began in 2015 when France’s data protection bureau, the CNIL, ordered Google to globally remove search result listings to pages containing damaging or false information about a person.

Google introduced a geoblocking feature that prevented European users from being able to see delisted links.

But it refused to censor search results around the world, which led the CNIL to impose a 100,000 euro (£88,000) fine on Google, for failing to remove search results from across its domains globally.

Google then applied to the ECJ for the fine to be overturned.

Google had argued that the obligation could be abused by authoritarian governments trying to cover up human rights abuses, were it to be applied outside of Europe.

Tom Jowitt

Tom Jowitt is a leading British tech freelancer and long standing contributor to Silicon UK. He is also a bit of a Lord of the Rings nut...

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