Google must remove data from online search results if users can prove it wrong, Europe’s top court ruled on Thursday.
Free speech and privacy rights advocates have fought in recent years over people’s “right to be forgotten” online, which means they should be able to remove their digital works from the Internet.
The case before the Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU) relates to two executives of a group of investment firms who asked Google to replace search results associated with their names with particular articles that criticized the group’s investment model.
They also wanted Google to remove their thumbnails from search results. The company declined the requests, saying it did not know whether the information in the articles was accurate.
A German court later asked the CJEU about balancing the right to be forgotten and freedom of expression and information.
The Court of Justice of the European Union said: “Operators of search engines must remove information found in referenced material where the person requesting the removal of the reference shows that it is false.
To avoid placing an excessive burden on users, the judges said that such evidence should not arise from a judicial decision against website publishers and that users should only provide evidence that they are reasonably expected to find.
Google said the link and thumbnail are no longer available via a web search and image search, and the content has been offline for a long time.
A spokesperson said: “Since 2014, we have worked hard to implement the right to be forgotten in Europe, striking a sensible balance between people’s rights to access information and privacy.
The same court upheld the right to be forgotten in 2014, saying that people can ask search engines like Google to remove insufficient or irrelevant information from web results that come up under a search of their name.
The decision precedes landmark EU privacy rules that came into force in 2018, which state that the right to be forgotten is excluded where the processing of personal data is necessary to exercise the right to information.
The case is C-460/20 Google (Déréférencement d’un contenu prétendument inexact).
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