People should have some say over the results that pop up when they conduct a search of their own name online, Europe's highest court said Tuesday.
In a landmark decision, The Court of Justice of the European Union said Google must listen and sometimes comply when individuals ask the Internet search giant to remove links to newspaper articles or websites containing their personal information.
Though digital rights campaigners say the ruling by the top court in the 28-nation EU favors individual privacy rights over the freedom of information, there are questions as to how it will be put into practice and whether it will prompt a change in the way search engines operate globally.
In a judgment that will potentially impact on all search engines in Europe, including Yahoo and Microsoft's Bing, the court said a search on a person's name yields a results page that amounts to an individual profile. Under European privacy law, it said people should be able to ask to have links to private information in that 'profile' removed.
It is not clear how exactly the court envisions Google and others handling complaints, and Google said it is still studying the ruling, which cannot be appealed.
The referral to the European Court came from Spain's National Court, which asked for advice in the case of Mario Costeja, a Spaniard who found a search on his name turned up links to a notice that his property was due to be auctioned because of an unpaid welfare debt. The notice had been published in a Spanish newspaper in 1998, and was tracked by Google's robots when the newspaper digitalized its archive.
Costeja argued that the debt had long since been settled, and he asked the Spanish privacy agency to have the reference removed. In 2010 the agency agreed, but Google refused and took the matter to court, saying it should not be asked to censor material that had been legally published by the newspaper.
"It's a great relief to be shown that you were right when you have fought for your ideas, it's a joy," Costeja told The Associated Press in a telephone interview. "If Google was great before it's perfect now because there are game rules to go by."
He said that "ordinary people will know where they have to go" to complain about bad or old information that turns up on a Google search.
Following the European ruling, Costeja's case will return to Spain for final judgment. There are 200 others in the Spanish docks, some of which may still prove difficult to decide. For instance: one involves a plastic surgeon who wants mentions of a botched surgery her performed removed from Google's results. (continued...)
© 2014 Associated Press under contract with NewsEdge. All rights reserved.