News / Europe

Google Vindicated By EU Court Opinion on Search Results

A computer monitor in Berlin displays information about Google+ service, seen through a magnifying glass, June 29, 2011
A computer monitor in Berlin displays information about Google+ service, seen through a magnifying glass, June 29, 2011
Reuters
Google must respect EU privacy law but is not obliged to delete sensitive information from its search index, an adviser to the highest European Union court said, in a case that tests whether people can have harmful content erased from the Web.
 
The adviser backed the Internet search giant's position that it cannot erase legal content from the internet even if it is harmful to an individual. But he rejected the view of many U.S. internet firms that they are not bound by EU privacy law.
 
“Requesting search engine service providers to suppress legitimate and legal information that has entered the public domain would entail an interference with the freedom of expression,” the Luxembourg-based court said in a statement setting out Advocate General Niilo Jaaskinen's opinion.
 
While Internet-based firms operating in the European Union must adhere to national data protection laws, that did not oblige them to remove personal content produced by third parties, the statement said.
 
“Search engine service providers are not responsible, on the basis of the [EU's] Data Protection Directive, for personal data appearing on web pages they process.”
 
Lawyers agree that Google's search algorithms, which hunt and list weblinks based on how relevant they may be, would not be in a position to “know” whether data was personal or not.
 
“A search engine is just a tool,” said Eduardo Ustaran, a London-based lawyer from Field Fisher Waterhouse. “The nature of that information is irrelevant. It is just ones and zeros.”
 
A final judgment on the case is expected before the end of the year. Judges in the European Court of Justice are not bound by an advocate general's opinion, but follow such recommendations in the majority of cases.
 
The case stems from a complaint by a Spanish man that a public notice announcing that his home was up for auction after being repossessed infringed his privacy and should be deleted from Google's search results.
 
His case is one of 180 similar examples in Spain in which people have sought to have content deleted from Google searches. The other cases are on hold pending the EU court's decision.
 
The original auction announcement was from a Spanish newspaper, which said it was under a legal obligation to publish the notice.
 
Google welcomed the advocate general's opinion, saying it supported the company's view that deleting such content amounted to censorship.
 
“This is a good opinion for free expression,” said Bill Echikson, Google's head of free expression in Europe, the Middle East and Africa, in an emailed statement.

The advertising business
 
But Internet companies may be disappointed at the opinion that they should follow EU privacy law even if the data is handled outside the European Union. Many internet firms maintain that handling data outside the 27-member bloc means they are not subject to EU privacy law.
 
The advocate general said that even the presence of an advertisings business, which is fundamental to the model of companies such as Google and which targets people in Spain, means they must follow EU law. If that view is upheld by the ECJ, it could put search firms under more pressure to protect the data of privacy-hungry Europeans.
 
EU to overhaul protection law
 
The European Union is finalizing a major overhaul of its 20-year-old data protection law that would make Internet companies follow EU rules if their services target European consumers.
 
The overhaul is part of a push for increased data privacy in Europe, which has gained urgency after revelation of a large-scale U.S. Internet spying program targeted at foreigners.
 
Google also faces fines in both Spain and France if it does not change its privacy policy, which allows it to collect and combine personal data across its services such as email and Youtube. Privacy watchdogs in several other countries are also assessing Google's services under their national rules.
 
The EU overhaul is also intended to give citizens “a right to be forgotten” even though it is not yet clear in what circumstances that right could be invoked. The advocate general said such a right does not exist in current legislation.

You May Like

Turbulent Transition Imperils Tunisia’s Arab Spring Gains

Critics say new anti-terrorism laws worsen Tunisia's situation while others put faith in country’s vibrant civil organizations, women’s movement More

Burundi’s Political Crisis May Become Humanitarian One

United Nations aid agencies issue warning as deadly violence sends tens of thousands fleeing More

Yemenis Adjust to Life Under Houthi Rule

Locals want warring parties to strike deal to stop bloodletting before deciding how country is governed More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Texas Town Residents Told to 'Just Leave' Ahead of Flood Threati
X
Greg Flakus
May 29, 2015 11:24 PM
Water from heavy rain in eastern and central Texas is now swelling rivers that flow into the Gulf of Mexico, threatening towns along their banks. VOA’s Greg Flakus visited the town of Wharton, southwest of Houston, where the Colorado River is close to cresting.
Video

Video Texas Town Residents Told to 'Just Leave' Ahead of Flood Threat

Water from heavy rain in eastern and central Texas is now swelling rivers that flow into the Gulf of Mexico, threatening towns along their banks. VOA’s Greg Flakus visited the town of Wharton, southwest of Houston, where the Colorado River is close to cresting.
Video

Video New York's One World Trade Center Observatory Opens to Public

From New Jersey to Long Island, from Northern suburbs to the Atlantic Ocean, with all of New York City in-between.  That view became available to the public Friday as the One World Trade Center Observatory opened in New York -- atop the replacement for the buildings destroyed in the September 11, 2001, attacks.  VOA’s Bernard Shusman reports.
Video

Video Seoul Sponsors Korean Unification Fair

With inter-Korean relations deteriorating over the North’s nuclear program, past military provocations and human rights abuses, many Koreans still hold out hope for eventual peaceful re-unification. VOA’s Brian Padden visited a “unification fair” held this week in Seoul, where border communities promoted the benefits of increased cooperation.
Video

Video Purple Door Coffeeshop: Changing Lives One Cup at a Time

For a quarter of his life, Kevin Persons lived on the street. Today, he is working behind the counter of an espresso bar, serving coffee and working to transition off the streets and into a home. Paul Vargas reports for VOA.
Video

Video Modular Robot Getting Closer to Reality

A robot being developed at Carnegie Mellon University has evolved into a multi-legged modular mechanical snake, able to move over rugged surfaces and explore the surroundings. Scientists say such machines could someday help in search and rescue operations. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Shanghai Hosts Big Consumer Electronics Show

Electronic gadgets are a huge success in China, judging by the first Asian Consumer Electronics Show, held this week in Shanghai. Over the course of two days, more than 20,000 visitors watched, tested and played with useful and some less-useful electronic devices exhibited by about 200 manufacturers. VOA’s George Putic has more.
Video

Video Forced to Return Home, Afghan Refugees Face Increased Hardship

Undocumented refugees returning to Afghanistan from Pakistan have no jobs, no support system, and no home return to, and international aid agencies say they and the government are overwhelmed and under-resourced. Ayesha Tanzeem has more from Kabul.
Video

Video Britain Makes Controversial Move to Crack Down on Extremism

Britain is moving to tighten controls on extremist rhetoric, even when it does not incite violence or hatred -- a move that some are concerned might unduly restrict basic freedoms. It is an issue many countries are grappling with as extremist groups gain power in the Middle East, fueled in part by donations and fighters from the West. VOA’s Al Pessin reports from London.
Video

Video 3D Printer Makes Replica of Iconic Sports Car

Cars with parts made by 3D printers are already on the road, but engineers are still learning about this new technology. While testing the possibility of printing an entire car, researchers at the U.S. Department of Energy recently created an electric-powered replica of an iconic sports roadster. VOA’s George Putic has more.
Video

Video Al-Shabab Recruitment Drive Still on In Kenya

The al-Shabab militants that have long battled for control of Somalia also have recruited thousands of young people in Kenya, leaving many families disconsolate. Mohammed Yusuf recently visited the Kenyan town of Isiolo, and met with relatives of those recruited, as well as a many who have helped with the recruiting.
Video

Video A Small Oasis on Kabul's Outskirts Provides Relief From Security Tensions

When people in Kabul want to get away from the city and relax, many choose Qargha Lake, a small resort on the outskirts of Kabul. Ayesha Tanzeem visited and talked with people about the precious oasis.
Video

Video Kenyans Lament Losing Sons to al-Shabab

There is agony, fear and lost hope in the Kenyan town of Isiolo, a key target of a new al-Shabab recruitment drive. VOA's Mohammed Yusuf visits Isiolo to speak with families and at least one man who says he was a recruiter.
Video

Video Scientists Say Plankton More Important Than Previously Thought

Tiny ocean creatures called plankton are mostly thought of as food for whales and other large marine animals, but a four-year global study discovered, among other things, that plankton are a major source of oxygen on our planet. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Kenya’s Capital Sees Rise in Shisha Parlors

In Kenya, the smoking of shisha, a type of flavored tobacco, is the latest craze. Patrons are flocking to shisha parlors to smoke and socialize. But the practice can be addictive and harmful, though many dabblers may not realize the dangers, according to a new review. Lenny Ruvaga has more on the story for VOA from Nairobi, Kenya.

VOA Blogs