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
TEXT SIZE - +
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

Multimedia Relatives of South Korean Ferry Victims Fire at Authorities

46 people are confirmed dead, but some 250 remain trapped inside sunken ferry More

War Legacy Haunts Vietnam, US Relations

$84 million project aims to clean up soil contaminated by Agent Orange More

Wikipedia Proves Useful for Tracking Flu

Technique gave better results than Center for Disease Control (CDC) and Google’s Flu Trends More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Ukraine, Russia, United in Faith, Divided in Politicsi
X
Michael Eckels
April 19, 2014
There is a strong historical religious connection between Russia and Ukraine. But what role is religion playing in the current conflict? In the run-up to Easter, Michael Eckels in Moscow reports for VOA.
Video

Video Ukraine, Russia, United in Faith, Divided in Politics

There is a strong historical religious connection between Russia and Ukraine. But what role is religion playing in the current conflict? In the run-up to Easter, Michael Eckels in Moscow reports for VOA.
Video

Video Face of American Farmer is Changing

The average American farmer is now 58 years old, and farmers 65 and older are the fastest growing segment of the population. It’s a troubling trend signaling big changes ahead for American agriculture as aging farmers retire. Reporter Mike Osborne says a new report from the U.S. Census Bureau is suggesting what some of those changes might look like... and why they might not be so troubling.
Video

Video Donetsk Governor: Ukraine Military Assault 'Delicate But Necessary'

Around a dozen state buildings in eastern Ukraine remain in the hands of pro-Russian protesters who are demanding a referendum on self-rule. The governor of the whole Donetsk region is among those forced out by the protesters. He spoke to VOA's Henry Ridgwell from his temporary new office in Donetsk city.
Video

Video Drones May Soon Send Data From High Seas

Drones are usually associated with unmanned flying vehicles, but autonomous watercraft are also becoming useful tools for jobs ranging from scientific exploration to law enforcement to searching for a missing airliner in the Indian Ocean. VOA’s George Putic reports on sea-faring drones.
Video

Video New Earth-Size Planet Found

Not too big, not too small. Not too hot, not too cold. A newly discovered planet looks just right for life as we know it, according to an international group of astronomers. VOA’s Steve Baragona has more.
Video

Video Copts in Diaspora Worry About Future in Egypt

Around 10 percent of Egypt’s population belong to the Coptic faith, making them the largest Christian minority in the Middle East. But they have become targets of violence since the revolution three years ago. With elections scheduled for May and the struggle between the Egyptian military and Islamists continuing, many Copts abroad are deeply worried about the future of their ancient church. VOA religion correspondent Jerome Socolovsky visited a Coptic church outside Washington DC.
Video

Video Critics Say Venezuelan Protests Test Limits of Military's Support

During the two months of deadly anti-government protests that have rocked the oil-rich nation of Venezuela, President Nicolas Maduro has accused the opposition of trying to initiate a coup. Though a small number of military officers have been arrested for allegedly plotting against the government, VOA’s Brian Padden reports the leadership of the armed forces continues to support the president, at least for now.
Video

Video More Millenials Unplug to Embrace Board Games

A big new trend in the U.S. toy industry has more consumers switching off their high-tech gadgets to play with classic toys, like board games. This is especially true among the so-called millenial generation - those born in the 1980's and 90's. Elizabeth Lee has more from an unusual café in Los Angeles, where the new trend is popular and business is booming.
Video

Video Google Buys Drone Company

In its latest purchase of high-tech companies, Google has acquired a manufacturer of solar-powered drones that can stay in the air almost indefinitely, relaying broadband Internet connection to remote areas. It is seen as yet another step in the U.S. based Web giant’s bid to bring Internet to the whole world. VOA’s George Putic reports.
AppleAndroid