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‘Right to be forgotten’ only applies to Google in the EU, court rules

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EU court says search engines do not need to remove links worldwide

Illustration by Alex Castro / The Verge

The EU’s top court has ruled that Google does not need to remove links to sensitive information in all versions of its search engine worldwide when responding to “right to be forgotten” requests. Reuters reports that the European Court of Justice ruled that Google must only remove links in versions of its search engine meant for use in EU member states.

“There is no obligation under EU law, for a search engine operator who grants a request for de-referencing made by a data subject... to carry out such a de-referencing on all the versions of its search engine,” the court said.

Google was fined €100,000 (around $110,000) by France’s privacy watchdog CNIL back in 2016 for failing to delist search results globally, and not just in Europe. The requests were made as part of the EU’s so-called “right to be forgotten,” a ruling that was first established back in 2014 which says that internet search providers have a responsibility to remove outdated information that is “inadequate, irrelevant or no longer relevant or excessive.”

CNIL had argued back in 2015 that Google should remove links to sensitive information globally, in order to prevent people from being able to locate removed search results by simply switching to a version of Google from another country. Google disagreed, and argued that this power would give authoritarian governments the ability to censor information globally. The next year, Google introduced a new geoblocking feature that prevents European users from seeing removed links, according to BBC News.

In the end the European Court of Justice said that the rules only apply to EU member states. It said that “EU law requires a search engine operator to carry out such a de-referencing on the versions of its search engine corresponding to all the [European Union] member states.”

Google welcomed the verdict. “Since 2014, we’ve worked hard to implement the right to be forgotten in Europe, and to strike a sensible balance between people’s rights of access to information and privacy,” the company said in a statement. “It’s good to see that the Court agreed with our arguments.”