'Right To Be Forgotten' Dropped Outside Europe

John Lister's picture

Google has won a major victory over "right to be forgotten" rules. When it agrees to delete 'outdated' search results, it will no longer have to do so outside of Europe.

The latest ruling is part of a long running saga that began when European courts tried to find a balance between the competing rights to free speech and privacy. It all began with a Spanish man whose house was forcibly sold to settle a debt - an incident that was reported in a local newspaper.

Eleven years later he asked the newspaper to delete the archived report, saying it was the top search result for his name and the incident was so long ago it was no longer relevant. The newspaper refused, noting it had been forced to publish the report as a public record.

The man then asked Google to remove the page from its search results for its name. Google refused, leading to a lengthy case which it eventually lost.

Public Figures Get Less Protection

That led to the legal principle of "the right to be forgotten" across European Union countries. Despite the name, users can't demand a search engine delete results that point to pages with personal information about them. Instead, search engines must consider their request and their decision to refuse can be challenged in court.

The principle requires search engines to consider several factors in deciding whether to remove the link. This includes how outdated the information is, what type of personal information deals with, and whether the person is a public figure. Google says it removes the links in 45 percent of cases. The removal only affects searches for the person's name. (Source: theguardian.com)

Geo-blocking Provokes Dispute

In 2016, Google introduced a geo-blocking feature that meant that the affected links are only blocked for searches by people in a country that's part of the European Union and thus comes directly under the court ruling.

French privacy regulators said the removal should apply worldwide and issued a €100,000 ($110,000 USD) fine. They argued that the removal would be undermined if it was limited to some countries.

Google appealed against that fine and has now won the case in Europe's highest court. Google had argued that European court rulings shouldn't bind activities in the rest of the world. It also said that the principle could be abused by authoritarian governments outside of Europe. (Source: bbc.co.uk)

What's Your Opinion?

Was the court right to restrict the policy to Europe? Should the policy exist in the first place? Is there a better way to balance privacy and free speech online, particularly in countries which have differing attitudes to those principles?

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davolente_10330's picture

Facts are facts. If true, they should stand for ever in reports and not be, in effect, censored. Why should someone with a dubious past or criminal record be entitled to have that aspect of their life erased from Google's search results? Public has every right to know about undesirables. After all, they might find themselves living next-door to one!

russoule's picture

how is the removal of information from 25 or 35 or 45 years ago "Alternate facts"? the lack of "facts" does not automatically become "Alternate facts".

as to whether the removal is warranted, let us use the example of a college-age young man who goes on a drunken spree, but becomes, over the next 20 years, a dedicated doctor/dentist/attorney/professional whose record is absolutely pure with the exception of that one incident. should that young man (or woman since females are just as likely to make errors of judgement)be judged by a search of his name showing that as the first, second, third or fourth article about him/her?

there are certainly incidences which would lend themselves to being expunged from whatever record exists. even the courts will expunge a record after many years have passed, albeit with the request of the individual prompting that action. use a little "empathy" before making declarations about whether privacy should be removed.

Jim-in-kansas's picture


Good point.

Minus a Bernie Madoff or a mass murderer "time should heal most wounds". Search results should be no different.


James Douglass
Garden City, Kansas