The Right to be Forgotten – Now Things Have Got Really Interesting for Internet Law

 Now Things Have Got Really Interesting for Internet Law

The recent ECJ Ruling against Google has sent absolute shockwaves across the world. Where once Google’s ‘bots’ had the ability to simply return any search results from the utmost nether regions of the internet, the ECJ ruling has now stopped this dead in its tracks. What began as a relatively innocuous case brought by Mario Costeja González, about historically irrelevant links returned on his name by Google, has led to ground breaking legal precedent set down by the ECJ that will seriously affect the manner in which all search engines, not just Google, search, sort and return internet search results.

The ECJ ruling has meant that search companies can now be made to remove irrelevant or excessive personal information from their results, specifically "inadequate, irrelevant or no longer relevant, or excessive in relation to the purposes for which they were processed and in the light of the time that has elapsed," according to the ECJ Judges at the Luxembourg-based court.

The basis of this ruling is a person’s right to privacy is NOT outweighed by the public interest as per Article 8 of the ECHR. Google today appear to have completely crumbled and said that they will create an online web-form for people to fill out in order to make a complaint about such irrelevant results, following which they will review this and take any remedial action accordingly. It sounds so easy. However, in practice it may not be so easy. The ruling of the ECJ uses subjective words “inadequate, irrelevant or no longer relevant, or excessive” – who is going to decide what is inadequate, irrelevant or no longer relevant or even excessive? Ultimately, the complainant will be in the hands of Google to decide as to the material – and therefore Google will again remain the arbitrator. If the complainant does not agree then they will seek the services of a specialist internet lawyer. So we will wait to see how this will actually work in practice as to whether it will be another hoop to jump through before a complainant seeks a lawyer’s help, or whether Google will begin large scale removal of online material following simple web form submissions. The fact that Google has created a web form indicates the latter, but let’s not forget that Google’s business is search results, so they have a vested commercial interest in sticking to the former. Time will tell.

John Spyrou

Head of Internet, Media and Sports Law @Pinderreaux