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This article was published on September 24, 2019

EU top court rules Google doesn’t need to apply the ‘right to be forgotten’ globally

Google wins a landmark case against French privacy watchdog

EU top court rules Google doesn’t need to apply the ‘right to be forgotten’ globally
Már Másson Maack
Story by

Már Másson Maack

Editor, Growth Quarters by TNW

Már tries to juggle his editorial duties with writing the occasional weird article. He also loves talking about himself in the third person. Már tries to juggle his editorial duties with writing the occasional weird article. He also loves talking about himself in the third person.

Google just won a case in Europe’s top court (CJEU) over the EU‘s right to be forgotten. The court confirmed that the search engine giant would only need to remove reported links from search results in Europe — not globally — the BBC reports.

The case started back in 2016, when French privacy watchdog CNIL fined Google €100,000 for not removing pages with damaging or false information about a person globally. Google challenged the fine as it believed its geoblocking feature — which removed delisted links from search results within the EU — sufficed to comply with the law.

Google argued if the right to be forgotten was applied globally, it would risk abuse by authoritarian governments. While the CJEU’s ruling doesn’t address that directly, it reiterates that the right to be forgotten is “not an absolute right” — it has to be balanced with other fundamental rights and must be “in accordance with the principle of proportionality.”

So what exactly is the ‘right to be forgotten?’

An individual’s right to the erasure of their personal information is guaranteed in the EU‘s extensive privacy regulation, GDPR.

This means you could ask an organization such as Google to delete information that is “inadequate, irrelevant or no longer relevant or excessive” from its search results. This could refer to revenge porn, reports that a person once committed a crime, or personal incidents such as extra-marital affairs.

The basic argument is that the right to control your data is meaningless if you can’t revoke your consent to its processing when it contains errors or is being stored unnecessarily.

Credit: Google
‘Right to be forgotten’ removal requests sent to Google

Google has already been asked to remove 3.3 million web addresses. It’s been clearly established from the beginning that the legislation is not an absolute right as it could risk rewriting history, which is why only around 45 percent of the removal requests have been granted.

The right to be geo-blocked

The new ruling means that from now on Google will only need to remove results from its European sites and searches made within the EU — but these removals are easily circumvented via VPNs or other tools. This is good news for opponents of the legislation who fear it’s easily abused and go against principles of open information.

It also begs the question how effective the right is, seeing that maintaining any kind of ‘digital borders’ is incredibly elusive. However, even though it’s limited to the EU, it’s still important to victims of misinformation or revenge porn to being able to demote harmful content some way.

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