The European Union’s highest court ruled Tuesday that Google must remove outdated links or irrelevant information from its search results if an individual requests it. The court’s judgment said that individuals have the right to control their personal data and be “forgotten.”
The decision by the Court of Justice of the European Union—though only affecting search engines’ operations in the European Union for now—could have reverberations around the world. Many privacy rights advocates heralded the court’s enforcement of individuals' right to control what information appears online about them. “This is exactly what the data protection reform is about: making sure those who do business in Europe, respect European laws and empowering citizens to take the necessary actions to manage their data,” Viviane Reding, the European Commissioner for Justice, wrote on her Facebook page. “Big data need big rights.”
Censorship foes, on the other hand, said the decision hurts freedom of information by allowing individuals to delete pieces of their past, whether photos or nasty comments, online.
While the decision may not have many immediate effects on U.S. business owners, it could have some longer-term implications:
1. Your Web links could be removed from search engines. Because Europeans can now request that Google remove links about them, anything you publish on your website—whether a blog post or an online review—that contains the name of an individual in the EU runs the risk of being removed from a search engine. An individual’s data may have to be removed from search engines if it “appears to be 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,” the court ruled.
2. It could make search engines less valuable. The ability for individuals, though only in Europe for now, to erase their history means that Google and other search engines will have to delete old links. Google isn’t required to oblige every request to remove an individual’s information, but individuals will have the right to appeal in court if it doesn’t.
3. It could fire up privacy rights debates in the United States. The EU court’s ruling could lead to similar discussions about individuals’ rights to control their online data. If such a rule were implemented in the U.S., it could have broad implications on businesses and individuals alike. James B. Rule, a researcher at the Center for the Study of Law and Society at UC Berkeley, however, argues that it’s highly doubtful that such upholding of privacy rights would happen in the U.S. anytime soon. “Drafting legislation extending such rights to ordinary citizens would hardly be complicated,” Rule writes in a Los Angeles Times op-ed. “But the political forces that would rise in opposition are daunting. Too many industries and government agencies in this country flourish by appropriating personal information without permission from, or even the awareness of, those concerned.”
Read more small-business news.
Photo: Getty Images