EU court: Google must delete inaccurate search information on request

LONDON (AP) – Google must remove search results about people in Europe if they can show the information is clearly false, the European Union’s top court said on Thursday.

The European Court of Justice has ruled that search engines must “dereference information” if the requester can show that the material is “manifestly incorrect”.

People in Europe have the right to ask Google and other search engines to remove links to outdated or embarrassing information about themselves, even if it’s true, according to a principle known as the “right to be forgotten”.

Strict data protection rules in the 27-state bloc give people the right to control what appears when their name is searched online, but the regulations often pit privacy concerns against the public’s right to know.

Google said it welcomes the decision.

“Since 2014 we have worked hard to implement the right to be forgotten in Europe and to find a sensible balance between people’s right to access information and privacy,” the company said in a statement.

The case follows a lawsuit filed by two managers of a group of investment companies in Germany’s highest court, who asked Google to remove search results based on their names that were linked to articles criticizing the group’s investment model became.

They said the articles made false claims. Neither the managers nor the company have been identified.

The couple also asked Google to remove thumbnails of them, which turned up in image searches without context.

Google refused because it didn’t know whether the articles were accurate or not, according to a press summary of the ruling.

The court disagreed, saying the search engine must grant the request if someone provides relevant and sufficient evidence demonstrating the “manifest inaccuracy” of the information.

The judges said the right to freedom of expression and information could not be taken into account if “at least a not inconsiderable part of the information” turned out to be false.

In order not to make it too difficult to have false results removed, the ruling said a court decision is not required and that people “can only produce evidence that can reasonably be required”.

Google said the links and thumbnails in question in this particular case are no longer available through web and image search. “The content in question has been offline for a long time,” it said.

Search engines don’t always have to examine the facts to determine whether content is accurate, the court said, as it could mean extra work that businesses could avoid by proactively removing results.

“This will hopefully prompt Google and similar big tech firms to invest in a sufficiently educated and well-employed workforce capable of handling such requests, rather than outsourcing key curation work to underpaid workers or an unaccountable algorithm,” said Jan Penfrat, senior policy advisor at digital rights group EDRi.

In an earlier judgment, the court sided with Google in deciding that the “right to be forgotten” does not apply outside the EU27. The French data protection authority wanted the rule to apply to all of Google’s search engines, including those outside of Europe.

According to the company’s latest transparency report, Google has deleted 5.25 million web links since it began serving “right to be forgotten” requests in 2014, or nearly half of all requests processed.

When Google receives a takedown request, it doesn’t remove the links from all web searches, only when a person’s name is entered. It will still be displayed if other search terms are used.

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