ECJ Rules Search Engines Must Grant Requests to Remove Links to Personal Information

European Court of JusticeThe European Court of Justice (ECJ), the highest court in European Union, has said that Google must listen and sometimes comply if a person asks the search engine to remove links to newspaper articles or websites which contain that person’s personal information. The judgment will impact all search engines that operate in Europe including Yahoo and Bing. The court said a search on a person’s name yields a results page that is as good as an individual profile, and that people should be able to ask to remove links to private information in that profile, or have ‘the right to be forgotten’ under European privacy law. The court opines that search engines should weigh the legitimate interest of Internet users interested in accessing the information against the right to privacy and protection of personal data.

One of the main advantages of this ruling is that it would make personal reputation management easier, though it is not sure whether this would apply to company brands and issues.

ECJ took this landmark decision in settling the case of a Spanish national who lodged a complaint against a national newspaper and against Google Spain and Google Inc in 2010. The man said that when a user searched his name on Google, the results would display the newspaper’s pages that said his property was due to be auctioned because of an unpaid welfare debt. A Spanish newspaper had published this notice in 1998 and Google’s robots tracked it when the newspaper digitized its archive. The complainant argued the debt had been settled long ago and asked the Spanish newspaper to remove the reference. Though they agreed, Google denied the request saying it should not be asked to remove the material that had been published legally by the newspaper. By forcing search engines to censor the material that contain private information, the ruling allows individuals to remove the information about their accidental mistakes in past that may affect their reputation now.

The main points in the press release published by the ECJ are as follows:

  • A search engine operator is responsible for the processing of personal data appearing on web pages published by third parties
  • When individuals find the search results showing a link to web page containing the information on their personal information while searching on the basis of their name, they may approach the search engine operator directly to remove that link and the search engine operator must then duly examine its merits
  • If the operator does not grant that request, individuals can refer the matter to competent authorities in order to obtain, under certain conditions, the removal of the link

The idea of the ‘the right to be forgotten’ has generally been well received in Europe. However, a Google spokesman said the ruling was disappointing for search engines and online publishers and the company requires time to analyze the implications. Digital-rights groups have also expressed concerns that it could lead to online censorship. Though some forms of ‘right to be forgotten’ exist in the United States (for example, records of crimes committed by minors are expunged in some way), many Americans consider there is little reason for such reforms coming to the U.S. Some opine this ruling may allow convicts to delete references to crimes committed in past or corrupted politicians to remove their records. Some may even consider this rule likely be unconstitutional in the U.S. as it would violate Google’s freedom of speech.

Google advises their users to first approach websites that have published the personal information to remove it from the Internet. Once that website clears the content, Google’s result link to that content will disappear.

Many companies seek reputation management services to manage their online image. The Internet, despite all the advantages it offers, is a place where content can be posted anonymously to deliberately tarnish a company’s reputation. As such posts can be seen by a large audience, it can result in really damaging the company’s online reputation. For instance, physicians are among the professionals who need reputation management the most. Most Internet users look online for information about doctors or health professionals and read reviews about them. While some reviews may be authentic, others may be posted to malign the physician’s reputation. So, potential patients have no way of knowing which reviews to trust. In this scenario, it is a vital necessity to monitor and manage the physician’s reputation online for the health of the practice. Professional companies provide a full range of services – from assessing the physician’s current reputation, to proactively building a reputation, and guarding against slanderous posts or comments when they are created.

About Rajeev Rajagopal

Rajeev Rajagopal

Rajeev Rajagopal is the Vice President of Managed Outsource Solutions, a leading BPO company in Tulsa, Oklahoma. Prior to joining MOS, he worked as a physical therapist. Having worked in several rehabilitation clinics, Rajeev has learned the importance of good medical records for medical billing and liability issues and the importance of the good back and front office support. He has extensive knowledge in SEO, medical billing and coding, and medical transcription. He has worked with a number of large organizations to effectively manage and provide outsourcing solutions.