LUXEMBOURG, Dec. 8 (Reuters) – Google Alphabet unit (GOOGL.O) Europe’s Supreme Court said Thursday that data should be removed from online search results if users can prove that it is inaccurate.
Free speech advocates and proponents of privacy rights have clashed in recent years over people’s “right to be forgotten” online, which means they should be able to remove their digital traces from the internet.
The case before the Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU) concerns executives from a group of investment companies, who asked Google to remove search results linking their names to certain articles critical of the group’s investment model.
They also wanted Google to remove their thumbnails from search results. The company denied the requests, saying it did not know whether the information in the articles was accurate.
A German court later sought advice from the CJEU on the balance between the right to be forgotten and the right to freedom of expression and information.
The Court of Justice of the European Union said: “The search engine operator must delete the information contained in the referred content where the person requesting the removal of the reference proves that such information is manifestly inaccurate.”
To avoid overburdening users, the judges said that such evidence need not come from a judicial decision against the publishers of the sites and that users should only provide evidence they could reasonably be required to find.
Google said that the links and thumbnails in question were no longer available through web searches and image searches and that the content had been offline for a long time.
“Since 2014, we’ve worked hard to implement the right to be forgotten in Europe, striking a reasonable balance between people’s rights to access information and privacy,” a company spokesperson said.
The same court in 2014 enshrined the right to be forgotten, saying that people can ask search engines like Google to remove insufficient or irrelevant information from web results that appear within searches of their name.
The ruling preceded the EU’s privacy rules that came into force in 2018 and provide for the exclusion of the right to be forgotten when the processing of personal data is necessary to exercise the right to information.
The case is C-460/20 Google (Déréférencement d’un contenu prétendument inexact).
(Reporting by Fu Yun Che; additional reporting by Benoit van Overstraeten in Paris; Editing by Barbara Lewis, Robert Bircel
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