No Need For Google To Vet Websites, Court Rules

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Google is not obliged to vet websites for defamatory content, German court rules in right to be forgotten case

Google’s “right to be forgotten” obligations do not extend to it having to vet websites to ensure they are free of defamatory content, before displaying links in its search results.

This was the decision of Germany’s highest court, the Federal Court of Justice on Tuesday, which ruled after a complaint by two people, who demanded that Google remove search links to websites on which they were verbally attacked by other internet users.

Europe’s top court, the Court of Justice of the European Union (ECJ), had already debated the controversial “right to be forgotten” issue in May 2017.

censor gag free speech right to be forgotten silence © Alexandru Logel Shutterstock

German Ruling

In the German case, the two people had wanted Google to set up search filters to keep those websites from appearing in future search results.

They also wanted information about the users who had posted the offending comments and payment of damages, and alleged that Google was partly responsible for the violation of their rights.

However Germany’s highest court disagreed and said that a search engine operator need only take action if it is notified of a clearly recognisable violation of individuals’ rights, rather than checking ahead of time whether the content complies with the rules.

“Instituting a general duty to inspect the content would seriously call into question the business model of search engines, which is approved by lawmakers and wanted by society,” the court swas quoted by Reuters as saying.

“Without the help of such search engines it would be impossible for individuals to get meaningful use out of the internet due to the unmanageable flood of data it contains,” it added.

Controversial Law

The ‘right to be forgotten’ was made into law in May 2014, when the ECJ ruled that search engine operators were responsible for links to web pages that contained personal information, and should therefore remove such links on request of the information owners.

The law applied to search engines such as Google and Bing, but as Google has by far the largest search engine market share in Europe, it is often front and centre of the issue.

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

Since 2014 Google’s transparency report has revealed it has received requests for the removal of more than 2.4 million website links and accepted about 43 percent of them.

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Author: Tom Jowitt
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