BRUSSELS—Google won a major case in the European Union (EU) on Tuesday, Sept. 24, when the bloc’s top court ruled that the U.S. internet giant doesn’t have to extend the EU’s “right to be forgotten” rules to its search engines outside the region.
The case stems from a 2014 ruling that said people have the right to control what appears when their name is searched online. They can ask Google, for example, to remove a link. The French privacy regulator then wanted that rule applied to all of Google’s domains, even outside the EU, and asked the EU’s top court for advice.
The European Court of Justice said Tuesday that there “is no obligation under EU law for a search engine operator” to extend the rule beyond the EU states.
It said, however, that a search engine operator must put measures in place to discourage internet users from going outside the EU to find that information.
The decision, which matches a preliminary opinion in January from the court’s adviser, highlights the need to balance data privacy and protection concerns against the public’s right to information. It also raises questions about how to enforce differing jurisdictions when it comes to the borderless internet.
In a reaction to the ruling, Google’s Senior Privacy Counsel Peter Fleischer said “it’s good to see that the Court agreed with our arguments” and added that Google had worked hard “to strike a sensible balance between people’s rights of access to information and privacy.”
The European Commission noted that the court again confirmed that the “right to be forgotten” exists in the EU.
The 2014 ruling that people in the EU have the right to control what appears when their name is searched online forced Google to delete links to outdated or embarrassing personal information that popped up in searches within the 28-nation bloc.
One year later, the French privacy watchdog wanted Google to remove results on all its search engines on request, and not just European country sites like www.google.fr. Google refused and in the resulting court case, French legal authorities asked the EU’s highest court for advice.
On Tuesday, the EU court said it was illegal to apply an EU rule to business operations in countries outside the EU.
The ruling is final and becomes the benchmark on which courts in the 28-nation bloc must base their decisions relating to such cases.
Those who wanted to see such an extension argue that on the internet it is easy to switch from the national versions of the web site to ones outside the EU—by switching from google.fr to google.com for example—to find the information that must be removed within the EU.
Since Google started handling “right to be forgotten” requests in May 2014, the U.S. tech giant has removed about 1.3 million web links from its search results, or 45 percent of total requests processed, according to the company’s transparency report.
Online takedown requests filed by European residents are reviewed by Google staff based mainly in Ireland, who assess them on criteria including whether the webpage’s information is “inadequate, irrelevant, no longer relevant, or excessive.”
Google says it may reject a delisting request if the page contains information that’s “strongly in the public interest” with material that relates to the requester’s professional life, past crime, political office, position in public life, or whether the content consists of government documents or “journalistic in nature.”
Kelvin Chan in London contributed to this report.