The European Court of Justice has ruled that the 'right to be forgotten' should extend to Google's search results.
The landmark ruling yesterday was the culmination of a five year legal battle for Mario Costeja Gonzalez. He was surprised to discover searches on his name brought up a newspaper article from 1998 about the repossession of his home - information he felt should be forgotten.
When the newspaper La Vanguardia didn't cooperate, he took up the issue with Spain's data protection authorities and Google Spain, hoping to simply remove the link to the article on searches for his name.
The ruling means that Google will need to delete two results from its SERPs - the content itself will still exist, but will not be indexed in Google. It also sets a precedent for further removals. The court said members of the public have the right to request the removal of links to material that is "inadequate, irrelevant or no longer relevant, or excessive in relation to the purposes for which they were processed and in the light of the time that has elapsed".
Mr Costeja Gonzalez told the Guardian:
"I was fighting for the elimination of data that adversely affects people's honour, dignity and exposes their private lives. Everything that undermines human beings, that's not freedom of expression."
Freedom of search
Google on the other hand described the ruling as "disappointing", and will take time to "analyse the implications". It could of course open the floodgates for further requests - the Spanish data protection agency said it has received 220 similar complaints - with time and cost implications for the search giant.
Google also pointed out the ruling differs from the advocate general's opinion. In June 2013, Niilo Jaaskinen advised that it was the responsibility of individual sites to monitor what is published, and Google cannot be held responsible for that information being indexed and appearing in SERPs. Yesterday's decision means that content will still exist on the individual sites, and it is Google's responsibility to ensure it is not found.
Meanwhile the 'right to be forgotten' debate continues; the law was first proposed in 2012, and is yet to be approved by the 28 EU governments before it becomes a law. The UK has requested to opt out of any such laws.
Natalie Booth, head of search at theEword, commented: "The ruling is of course problematic for a company that prides itself on transparency and regularly publishes information on takedown requests. But the real problem lies in deciding what exactly should be taken down, what is important to public interest, and what could be deemed censorship - it certainly won't be an easy job."