Google and the right to be forgotten

News  |   3 June 2014

What are the effects of the recent EU ruling?

The ruling in the case known as ‘Google v Gonzalez’

The decision has given individuals the right to request that websites containing personal or confidential information about them are removed from google search results.

Google has swiftly implemented the ruling. In a matter of days a system was set up to allow users from the EU to request that websites containing such information are no longer included in Google results.

Free speech v the right to be forgotten
Effectively there is now a Europe wide right for some types of personal information to be removed from Google searches. Free speech advocates worry that this censorship could be used for the wrong reasons - or lead to more rulings that other kinds of information should be censored. In theory, a person who has served a prison sentence no longer has to live life worrying about what a Google search could reveal about them. However, removing search results from google does not remove the information from the original source and google in not the only search engine.

The impact on Google
For Google itself the implications are troublesome. In being forced to censor its results, it is essentially being handed a share of responsibility for what is searchable, when previously the responsibility for information posted online lay with the person who posted it. In terms of legal liability the ruling is a potential minefield. Now that a ruling has been given about removing personal information, how long will it be before Google runs into difficulty in determining what kinds of information are private and should be removed, and what should be retained?

Newspapers, magazines and even countries have become entwined in litigation for decisions based around privacy or openess. Now Google may find itself targeted by those who believe it has misjudged the balance between censoring private information and promoting free speech online.