Google (GOOG) has finally won a milestone case in Europe. The case wasn’t related to contesting fines or regulatory impositions. It was about Google’s fundamentals as a search engine service provider. Google was defending the idea of implementing a worldwide “right to be forgotten” law. The European Union’s top court ruled in favor of the US tech giant and limited the purview of the law within Europe.
Therefore, individual requests for removing private information from Google’s search results can be entertained only within Europe. Google will deploy a geoblocking feature to uphold this regulation. However, Google’s international versions will still host the related links, and users from outside Europe can access the data without restrictions.
Lately, European regulators have been penalizing Google and other US tech companies. The European Competition Commission has fined Google on multiple occasions. Even Facebook (FB) is facing probes related to data security issues by the European Court of Justice. We should find out the results of the Facebook data transfer case soon.
Google case history
After an independent ruling in 2014, European regulators instructed search engines to delink redundant information from web searches. According to the law, even out-of-date information and personal data (after receiving individual requests) shouldn’t appear in search results. In 2015, the CNIL (National Commission on Informatics and Liberty) flagged Google and fined it 100,000 euros. The CNIL is a French regulator that upholds data privacy laws.
The CNIL instructed Google to pull links with false information or sensitive personal data about citizens. In response, Google introduced the geoblocking feature in 2016. With the new feature, the company could manage search results within the EU geography. At the time, the CNIL imposed a fine of 100,000 euros on Google, as it hoped that the law would see global implementation.
Google contested the French regulator’s demands. It argued that authoritarian governments could use delinking to their advantage to cover up human rights abuses. It emphasized the importance of finding equilibrium between personal data privacy and the public interest.
The European Court of Justice’s ruling applies only within the 28 countries of the European Union. Users from other countries can still access this information in their search results. The European court also instructed the US tech giant to discourage the use of non-European versions of the search engine to gain access to the restricted links.
Right to be forgotten: What’s it about?
The Internet can host vast amounts of data for extended periods of time. Even if the information isn’t trending, it’s still online and easily accessible. It’s why conflict arises in the first place. Here, the battle is about personal data privacy versus freedom of speech and the right to information. The right permits an individual to secure his or her online privacy. However, some argue that it could help criminals and wrongdoers hide malicious acts.
Citizens of the European Union have a law that gives them the right to erasure. The law permits them to demand the removal of sensitive and personal details from Internet searches on demand. The rule took effect in 2014. Further guidelines came out in 2018 along with the GDPR (General Data Protection Regulation). The GDPR outlines two specific exceptions for the right to be forgotten. Both exceptions consider health a fundamental factor. The first exception is information in the interest of public health, and the second is for preventative or occupational medicine.
The European court is taking a tough stance. The argument supporting the right to be forgotten is a credible one. Other countries may eventually decide to hound Google and its peers about related data privacy issues.
In my opinion, Google should proactively address this possibility in other countries. In a worst-case scenario, even a single grievance from an individual could lead to potentially high claims, penalties, and a loss of reputation.