Google in Europe and the right to be forgotten

Surprise ruling has widespread implications for search engines and social media.

The European Court of Justice (ECJ) has ruled in favour of a Spanish lawyer who wanted to force Google to remove a search. The link was to a news story from 1998 referring to an auction held to retrieve debts he owed – the length of time since the incident was considered relevant by the ECJ in reaching its decision.  The lawyer was one of 200 people in Spain pursuing similar cases. 

The ECJ ruling will have to be implemented by courts on a country-by-country basis. 

The ruling means that Google is being considered as a 'data controller' of search result listings, even though it does not 'control' the underlying content.  In the EU data controllers are responsible for removing data that is "inadequate, irrelevant or no longer relevant".

The news has generated widespread debate in Europe and the US with contrasting views expressed by those who celebrate the ruling as a victory for the right to privacy and those who think this is a dangerous first step towards internet censorship.

Sources: EUObserver; Gigaom; The Guardian.