The end of search as we know it: Google forced to delete irrelevant links from search results

May 22nd, 2014

Individuals now have the right to control what is published about them on the web and ask search engines to remove irrelevant or untrue links to information about them from their results pages, rules European Court

The news comes after Spanish citizen, Mario Costeja González failed to secure the deletion of a search result which revealed that his house had been repossessed and auctioned after he ran into financial difficulties in 1998. González believes that such information – which is no longer relevant – can be damaging to an individual’s reputation and should be extricated from search engine results pages.

After hearing González’s case, the European court judges ruled that under existing EU data protection laws, Google must erase the links to two pages that appear within search results when Costeja González’s name is searched for.

“Like anyone would be when you tell them they’re right, I’m happy”, González said after hearing the verdict. “I was fighting for the elimination of data that adversely affects people’s honour, dignity and exposes their private lives. Everything that undermines human beings, that’s not freedom of expression”, he continued.

Stemming from this isolated case, the European Union’s Court of Justice has supported the so-called “right to be forgotten” and ruled that in future Google must delete “inadequate, irrelevant or no longer relevant” data from its search engine results pages when a member of the public requests the search engine to do so.

The ruling highlights that Google and other search engines have a responsibility as “data controllers” to monitor the content it links to. Data protection lawyers have observed that the new ruling means Google can no longer be regarded legally as a “neutral intermediary”.

Where will the line be drawn between information that is potentially and unfairly damaging to an individual’s reputation and information that is in the public interest to be revealed?

Viviane Reding, the EU Justice Commissioner praised the court’s decision, writing on Facebook that the “ruling confirms the need to bring today’s data protection rules from the ‘digital stone age’ into today’s modern computing world”.

Google said of the verdict: “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 analyse the implications.”

This drastic change to the face of search will no doubt continue to be a topic of conversation over the coming months, as Google continue to study the ruling while deciding upon how best to deal with the deletion of links within search results. The search engine is currently dealing with each request on a case-by-case basis.

Where will the line be drawn between information that is potentially and unfairly damaging to an individual’s reputation and information that is in the public interest to be revealed?

Since the ruling earlier this month, Google is said to have received a deluge of requests from individuals wanting their details to be extricated from results pages. Amongst the requests is one from a paedophile who was convicted of possessing indecent images of children and asked for the links to pages that revealed details of his conviction to be de-indexed. Another request came from a doctor who wanted negative reviews about him to be deleted. Surely the publication of such topics is in the public interest?

Dealing with requests on a case-by-case basis will no doubt be a time-consuming task; one that the Ministry of Justice has estimated will cost £360m a year.

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