Feeds

Google CAN be told to delete sensitive data from its search results, rules top EU court

Judgment: Ad giant 'controls' and 'processes' our stuff

Reducing the cost and complexity of web vulnerability management

Google and other search engines can be held responsible for the type of personal data that appears on results pages it serves up, the European Union's Court of Justice ruled in a landmark case this morning.

Its decision (PDF) is a rare example of the CoJ disagreeing with an earlier advocate general opinion from June last year, when top judge Niilo Jääskinen said that Google was not obliged to remove sensitive legal content from its search index.

His opinion came after a man complained to Google's Spanish office in 2010 about search results that showed a link to a newspaper article which was first printed in 1998, reporting on a real-estate auction connected with attachment proceedings prompted by social security debts.

In its ruling today, the Luxembourg court - which is presided over by 28 judges, each representing one of the EU member states - cited the 1995 Data Protection Directive. It said:

In today's judgment, the Court of Justice finds, first of all, that by searching automatically, constantly and systematically for information published on the internet, the operator of a search engine "collects" data within the meaning of the directive.

The Court considers, furthermore, that the operator, within the framework of its indexing programmes, "retrieves", "records" and "organises" the data in question, which it then "stores" on its servers and, as the case may be, "discloses" and "makes available" to its users in the form of lists of results.

Those operations which are referred to expressly and unconditionally in the directive, must be classified as "processing", regardless of the fact that the operator of the search engine carries them out without distinction in respect of information other than the personal data.

The CoJ added that the likes of Google could be considered the "controller" in the context of the aged Directive, which has undergone a draft rewrite and has MEP support but won't be subjected to a legislative overhaul this side of the European Parliament elections. Besides that, it is yet to be scrutinised by the Council of Ministers, which could yet stall progress of the bill indefinitely.

Interestingly, the EU's top judges seem to have found wiggle room within the current rules to demonstrate that people living in the 28-member-state bloc have the right to be forgotten online.

The court said that Google was wrong to argue that processing of personal data on its search engine was not carried out by its Spanish subsidiary, in specific relation to the 2010 case. It said:

The court holds, in this regard, that where such data are processed for the purposes of a search engine operated by an undertaking which, although it has its seat in a non-member state, has an establishment in a member state, the processing carried out "in the context of the activities" of that establishment, within the meaning of the directive, if the establishment is intended to promote and sell, in the member state in question, advertising space offered by the search engine in order to make the service offered by the engine profitable.

In short, Google and other search engine operators are obliged - in some circumstances - to kill links to web pages that are published by third parties.

Individuals can approach Google and ask it to delete such links from its search engine. If it refuses, the complainant can take their gripe to a national data watchdog, the court ruled.

“This is a disappointing ruling for search engines and online publishers in general," a Google spokesperson told The Register. "We are very surprised that it differs so dramatically from the Advocate General’s opinion and the warnings and consequences that he spelled out. We now need to take time to analyse the implications."

Google has long argued that such erasure of data amounted to censorship. But cynics may note it could also hit the company's bottom line. ®

Security and trust: The backbone of doing business over the internet

More from The Register

next story
Phones 4u slips into administration after EE cuts ties with Brit mobe retailer
More than 5,500 jobs could be axed if rescue mission fails
JINGS! Microsoft Bing called Scots indyref RIGHT!
Redmond sporran metrics get one in the ten ring
Driving with an Apple Watch could land you with a £100 FINE
Bad news for tech-addicted fanbois behind the wheel
Murdoch to Europe: Inflict MORE PAIN on Google, please
'Platform for piracy' must be punished, or it'll kill us in FIVE YEARS
Phones 4u website DIES as wounded mobe retailer struggles to stay above water
Founder blames 'ruthless network partners' for implosion
Found inside ISIS terror chap's laptop: CELINE DION tunes
REPORT: Stash of terrorist material found in Syria Dell box
Sony says year's losses will be FOUR TIMES DEEPER than thought
Losses of more than $2 BILLION loom over troubled Japanese corp
Show us your Five-Eyes SECRETS says Privacy International
Refusal to disclose GCHQ canteen menus and prices triggers Euro Human Rights Court action
prev story

Whitepapers

Providing a secure and efficient Helpdesk
A single remote control platform for user support is be key to providing an efficient helpdesk. Retain full control over the way in which screen and keystroke data is transmitted.
WIN a very cool portable ZX Spectrum
Win a one-off portable Spectrum built by legendary hardware hacker Ben Heck
Saudi Petroleum chooses Tegile storage solution
A storage solution that addresses company growth and performance for business-critical applications of caseware archive and search along with other key operational systems.
Protecting users from Firesheep and other Sidejacking attacks with SSL
Discussing the vulnerabilities inherent in Wi-Fi networks, and how using TLS/SSL for your entire site will assure security.
Security for virtualized datacentres
Legacy security solutions are inefficient due to the architectural differences between physical and virtual environments.