US INTERNET giants could be hit by tight new rules on personal data, after Google lost a landmark case in the European Court of Justice (ECJ) which ruled that EU citizens can demand any outdated data is removed from servers.
The verdict is expected to throw up a host of technical challenges and extra costs for firms like Google, Facebook and Microsoft.
“This is a disappointing ruling for search engines and online publishers in general,” Google said.
The ruling was specifically focused on the actions of Google, but it will impact many online tech firms operating in Europe. EU justice commissioner Viviane Reding welcomed the ruling.
But Richard Cumbley of Linklaters told City A.M.: “Its got implications for lots of other businesses that up till now have said ‘we’re a US business’. So you can see implications for all the other search engines and social media businesses as well.” Ovum analyst Luca Schiavoni said the ruling would be burdensome for companies like Google and Bing. “They will have to go through every request they get now... they could then face legal action from the people whose requests are denied.” Facebook is also understood to be examining the impact of the ECJ’s ruling.
WHAT DATA IS AFFECTED BY THE RULING?
The Court of Justice of the European Union yesterday upheld the complaint of a Spanish man who objected to the fact that Google searches on his name threw up links to a 1998 newspaper article about the repossession of his home. As Linklaters partner Richard Cumbley explains the ruling essentially gives: “a right for ordinary individuals to ask for information about them to be suppressed from search results when it is no longer relevant.” The ruling isn’t specifically about data which someone has uploaded themselves – this is already covered by an earlier EU ruling the so-called “right to erasure” – but instead data that is uploaded by third parties and displayed on websites like Google. So if someone publishes information on their website about you that is “inadequate, irrelevant or no longer relevant”, old photographs, out of date personal information or false claims, Google could have to take steps to block that from search results if asked. Facebook already offers a way for users to file takedown notices for photos and information uploaded by friends or strangers about them that they feel breaches their privacy. But Google, which catalogues the entire web dozens of times a week in order to provide fast search results, currently displays its data without consideration for how old or accurate it is. From Google’s perspective it certainly fears the ruling will open up a flood of requests to restrict access to such information.