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Google required to delete ‘inaccurate’ data in Europe

Image credit: Foto 77759621 © Bennymarty |

European users of the search engine should be able to get Google to delete search results about them that are "manifestly inaccurate," the EU's top court has ruled.

The Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU) has ruled that users have the right to have search results about them deleted if the information they contain can be proven to be inaccurate. 

The ruling relates to a German legal dispute brought by two investment managers who had asked Google to remove search results linking their names to certain articles criticising the group's investment model. According to the executives, the links contained false claims. 

The investment managers also wanted Google to remove thumbnail photos of them from search results. 

The company refused to comply, arguing that it was unaware whether the information contained in the articles was accurate or not.

Subsequently, the Federal Supreme Court of Germany asked the Court of Justice of the EU to interpret the dispute under the light of Europe's General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR). In particular, the case concerned users' "right to be forgotten", as well as the Directive on the protection of natural persons in the processing of personal data and the free movement of such data in relation to the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the EU.

In contrast, Google's defence was based on the right to freedom of expression and information. 

The CJEU has now ruled in favour of the executives. 

"The right to freedom of expression and information cannot be taken into account where, at the very least, a part – which is not of minor importance – of the information found in the referenced content proves to be inaccurate," the court said in a press release accompanying the ruling.

"The operator of a search engine must de-reference information found in the referenced content where the person requesting de-referencing proves that such information is manifestly inaccurate," it added. 

Under the court's ruling, people who want to scrub inaccurate results from search engines should be able to do so, provided they have sufficient evidence to demonstrate that the claims are false. 

To avoid placing an undue burden on users, the judges said that such proof should not come from a judgment against website publishers and that users should only provide evidence that they could reasonably be expected to find.

In response to the decision, Google said that the links and images in question were no longer available through web and image searches and that the content had been offline for a long time.

"Since 2014, we have been working hard to implement the right to be forgotten in Europe and strike a reasonable balance between people's rights to access information and privacy," a spokesperson said.

Over recent years, free speech advocates and supporters of privacy rights have been clashing over people's "right to be forgotten", and the extent to which online platforms should be held responsible for the content that is published on their sites. 

Although the UK still follows Europe's GDPR legislation, the government is expected to replace it with a new set of laws, which would remove the “prescriptive requirements” of GDPR and give organisations greater flexibility to protect personal data in “more proportionate ways”. 

The UK’s new data bill is expected to increase fines for nuisance calls and texts, allow for a digital births and deaths registry in England and Wales, and facilitate the flow and use of personal data for law enforcement and national security purposes, among other changes.

The UK's Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) has also been overseeing Google's use of customer data. Following an investigation in June this year, the CMA has now said to be satisfied with the company's new data policy. 

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