The Google ‘right to be forgotten’ ruling and its wider implications for business

By Belinda Doshi

In a landmark judgment on 13 May 2014, the Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU) ruled that an individual has the ‘right to be forgotten’ under the Data Protection Directive 95/46/EC. The CJEU held that, in certain circumstances, search engines such as Google will be obliged to remove from their search results links to webpages that contain ‘inadequate, irrelevant or no longer relevant or excessive’ information about individuals.

The case has attracted worldwide attention because of its ramifications for Google and other search engines. Indeed, since the case was first publicised, Google alone has received more than 12,000 requests to be forgotten. However, what has attracted relatively little attention are the wider implications for business generally. In summary, this ruling is not just relevant for search engines. Its implications for our understanding of the territorial scope of the Data Protection Directive and, arguably, our understanding of individuals’ rights under it will be relevant to all types of business and other organisations.

The dispute dates back to 1998 when a Spanish newspaper published details of the financial difficulties of a Mr Mario Costejo Gonzalez. In particular, the newspaper mentioned Mr Gonzalez’s name in relation to a real-estate auction for the recovery of debts. The article was placed as an electronic publication on the newspaper’s website and indexed by Google’s search engine. In 2009, Mr Gonzales asked the newspaper to remove the publication as it was old and no longer relevant. After the newspaper refused to do so, Mr Gonzalez asked Google to remove the publication from its search engine results, which Google also refused to do…

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