Google has lost a European court case that forces it to remove personal information hosted on third-party websites from its search engine results if asked by an individual. The landmark case, a test of citizens’ "right to be forgotten," sees the European Union Court of Justice rule that Google is responsible for content on its servers, and that the search giant must amend some search results when they might show outdated or irrelevant information hosted by a third-party. It’s a surprise ruling, and one that could have serious ramifications on how Google and other search providers operate in Europe.

The ruling follows a case in Spain where a resident asked Google to delete information regarding a house that was auctioned off after his failure to pay taxes. It was one of a number of cases where Google was asked to remove content in Spain, and the company refused, forcing the case to the European Union Court of Justice. Google is "obliged to remove links to web pages" under certain circumstances, according to the court. "If, following a search made on the basis of a person's name, the list of results displays a link to a web page which contains information on the person in question, that data subject may approach the operator directly." Google doesn’t have an easy method for members of the public to request data removals, and the court ruling could force a process change to accommodate that.

Google left disappointed by the surprise ruling

In a statement to The Verge, Google says "this is a disappointing ruling for search engines and online publishers in general." The final ruling runs counter to a statement last year by the Advocate General at the European Court of Justice, who said that Google should not have to delete sensitive information from its search results. "We are very surprised that it differs so dramatically from the Advocate General’s opinion and the warnings and consequences that he spelled out," says a Google spokesperson. The company is now taking "time to analyse the implications."