LUXEMBOURG, Dec 8 (Reuters) – Alphabet unit Google ( GOOGL.O ) must remove data from online search results if users can prove they are inaccurate, Europe’s top court said on Thursday.
Campaigners for free speech and supporters of privacy rights have argued in recent years about people̵[ads1]7;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) concerned two executives from a group of investment companies who had asked Google to remove search results that linked their names to certain articles that criticized the group’s investment model.
They also wanted Google to remove their thumbnails from search results. The company rejected the requests, saying it did not know whether the information in the articles was accurate or not.
A German court then asked the European Court of Justice for advice on the balance between the right to be forgotten and the right to freedom of expression and information.
“The operator of a search engine must remove the reference to information contained in the referenced content where the person requesting the removal of the reference proves that such information is manifestly inaccurate,” the European Court of Justice said.
To avoid an excessive burden on users, the judges said that such evidence need not come from a judicial decision against website publishers, and that users must only provide evidence that they could reasonably be required to find.
Google said the links and thumbnails in question were no longer accessible 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 to strike a sensible balance between people’s right to access information and privacy,” a spokesperson said.
The same court in 2014 struck down the right to be forgotten, saying people could ask search engines like Google to remove insufficient or irrelevant information from online results that appear in searches for their names.
The judgment preceded the EU’s landmark privacy rules that came into force in 2018 and state that the right to be forgotten is excluded where the processing of personal data is necessary to exercise the right to information.
The case is C-460/20 Google (de-reference to allegedly inaccurate content).
Reporting by Foo Yun Chee, additional reporting by Benoit Van Overstraeten in Paris; editing by Barbara Lewis, Robert Birsel
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