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Google wins landmark 'right to be forgotten' case against France

Jill Petzinger
Jill Petzinger, Germany Correspondent, Yahoo Finance UK
Google office in New York, US. Photo: Brendan McDermid/Reuters

Google emerged victorious in a landmark privacy case at the European Court of Justice (ECJ) on Tuesday, after Europe’s top court ruled that the US search-engine giant need not apply EU ‘right to be forgotten’ rules across all its global search results.

The right to be forgotten allows individuals to get search engines to remove results linked to their names that are irrelevant, outdated, or humiliating.

The dispute between Google and the CNIL, France’s privacy regulator, over people’s right to be delisted from Google’s search results began in 2015. CNIL demanded that Google delist results globally for European right to be forgotten request, and fined Google €100,000 (£88,000) for refusing to comply.

Google challenged the ruling and the case was escalated to the ECJ in Luxembourg, which ruled today that under the EU’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) Google must only apply the data-removal requests to results appearing in its searches within the 28-country EU bloc.

“Currently, there is no obligation under EU law, for a search engine operator who grants a request for de-referencing made by a data subject ... to carry out such a de-referencing on all the versions of its search engine,” the ECJ said. “However, EU law requires a search engine operator to carry out such a de-referencing on the versions of its search engine corresponding to all the member states.”

The ruling is a blow to the EU’s attempts to impose its privacy standards beyond the block, as well as for privacy advocates, who point out that results about a person will still be discoverable online, for example using a virtual private network.

Cillian Kieran, CEO of global privacy company Ethyca, notes that the ECJ’s ruling serves to underline “the complexity of correctly interpreting what constitutes fair levels of user data privacy.”

“This complexity and the growing volumes of data being collected by every business clearly demonstrates that privacy regulations will continue to compound, draw legal attention and pose complex challenges for every business operation,” Kieran says.

In a statement released after the ECJ ruling, Google said that since 2014, it has “worked hard to implement the right to be forgotten in Europe, and to strike a sensible balance between people’s rights of access to information and privacy.”