Europe’s top court has ruled that Google does not have to apply the right to be forgotten globally.
It means the firm only needs to remove links from its search results in Europe – and not elsewhere – after receiving an appropriate request.
The ruling stems from a dispute between Google and a French privacy regulator.
In 2015, CNIL ordered the firm to globally remove search result listings to pages containing damaging or false information about a person.
The following year, Google introduced a geoblocking feature that prevents European users from being able to see delisted links.
But it resisted censoring search results for people in other parts of the world. And the firm challenged a 100,000 ($109,901; £88,376) euro fine that CNIL had tried to impose.
“Currently, 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 European Court of Justice ruling said.
Google had argued that the obligation could be abused by authoritarian governments trying to cover up human rights abuses were it to be applied outside of Europe.
The tech firm had been supported by Microsoft, Wikipedia’s owner the Wikimedia Foundation, the non-profit Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, and the UK freedom of expression campaign group Article 19, among others.
ECJ adviser Maciej Szpunar had also concluded that the right to be forgotten be limited to Europe in a non-binding recommendation to the court earlier this year.
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It follows an earlier 2014 judgement that first granted European citizens the right to have listings for webpages containing information about them removed from search result queries for their name under certain circumstances.
The idea is to hide sensitive information – such the fact a person once committed a criminal offence or had an extra-marital affair – if the details are judged to be “inadequate, irrelevant or no longer relevant or excessive”.
Google has said that since that time it has received more than 845,000 requests to remove a total of 3.3 million web addresses, with about 45% of the links ultimately getting delisted.
This involves both removing the results from its European sites – such as Google.fr, Google.co.uk and Google.de – as well as restricting results from its other sites – such as Google.com – if it detects a search is being carried out from within Europe.
However, this means that users can still circumvent the action if they use a virtual private network (VPN) or other tool to mask their location.
News sites, including the BBC, are exempt from the rule, but may find that links to some of their old articles no longer appear on Google or other search engines.
Google wins landmark right to be forgotten case