Google to remove ‘dirty laundry’ from its results page

01 Jan 1970 1:00 am by Leela Bozonelis

Google screenRecent developments in ‘right to be forgotten’ internet regulation demonstrates exactly why businesses cannot rely on public web searches alone when conducting research. Aside from the possibility of search results displaying links to potentially inaccurate or incomplete information, the recent Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU) ruling on this subject means that Google must acquiesce to requests made by those who do not want specific links to appear in results when their name is searched.

The ‘right to be forgotten’ ruling handed down by the CJEU is necessarily specific, but the implications are far reaching. A Spanish man, Mario Costeja González, complained to the court that an article published in 1998, which detailed the repossession of his home to clear debts, was no longer relevant (as the debts were now settled) and the fact that it still featured prominently in Google search results infringed his fundamental right to privacy.

The CJEU ruled that although the newspaper had acted in the public interest at the time the article was published, the search result was now infringing Costeja González’s right to privacy and Google should remove it from its search results. Even though Google neither publishes, nor hosts the data, the fact that it acts as a ‘data controller’ means that it has the responsibility to remove the link. Interestingly, there is no duty placed on publishers to actually take down the articles – just a responsibility placed upon the search engine to stop directing people to the article.

The main weakness in the CJEU ruling is that the internet is a global resource. A person searching in the EU using instead of a European version will still be able to see the pre-takedown search results.

Whether the trend will extend to the United States in the future is debateable. Although privacy rights have recently been championed in the United States Supreme Court, the First Amendment right to free speech, especially when relating to the press, is historically sacrosanct. Following an extended period of ongoing debate over internet content regulation, the United States is still far from a political consensus on acceptable limitations to place on free speech, even where copyright infringement is concerned.

Since the ruling, Google has received a deluge of requests to remove links from its search results, each of which must be considered individually. The new practice opens up huge complications. How long does information stay relevant? What about information on public figures, politicians and businesses? The situation generates significant implications for compliance professionals conducting research: you cannot rely on public search engines to provide a relevant overview.

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