In a surprise blow to Google, Europe’s top court declared that links to incorrect and irrelevant information about a particular person must be deleted by search engines.
“An Internet search engine operator is responsible for the processing that it carries out of personal data which appear on web pages published by third parties,” said the European Court of Justice.
Therefore, Google and other search companies such as Yahoo and Bing have to remove the links to these sites if there is a valid court order.
A Google spokesperson told CNN that it was disappointed with the legal outcome. The company previously argued that the websites posting the information should have the responsibility to erase such data.
“If we start to make intermediaries responsible for the actions or the content of other people, you’re establishing a model that leads to greater surveillance and a risk of censorship,” said Big Brother Watch.
The ruling stems from a 2010 complaint by Spaniard Mario Costeja Gonzalez, who was irked by a Google search result that led to a 1998 newspaper notice about his unpaid debt to the Spanish government.
Gonzalez pointed out that he has already repaid it, but it is still showing up in the search engine, infringing on his data protection rights. The court sided with him and will no longer accept any appeals.
While the ruling has been welcomed by privacy advocates, other organisations fear that it could be used to censor free speech or cover up illegal activities.