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June 26, 2014

Google's "Right to be Forgotten" Disclaimer

If you are in a EU country, you may have seen this message when searching for a name: "Some results may have been removed under data protection law in Europe". It's displayed below the list of search results, but it's worth pointing out that the message only expresses a possibility:

"When you search for a name, you may see a notice that says that results may have been modified in accordance with data protection law in Europe. We're showing this notice in Europe when a user searches for most names, not just pages that have been affected by a removal," informs Google.

"The recent ruling by the Court of Justice of the European Union has profound consequences for search engines in Europe. The court found that certain users have the right to ask search engines like Google to remove results for queries that include the person's name. To qualify, the results shown would need to be inadequate, irrelevant, no longer relevant, or excessive."

There's a form you can fill out and request that Google removes certain search results associated with your name. You also need to attach a legible copy of a document that verifies your identity.

Here's how the whole thing started:

On 5 March 2010, Mr Costeja González, a Spanish national resident in Spain, lodged with the AEPD (Spanish Data Protection Agency) a complaint against La Vanguardia Ediciones SL, which publishes a daily newspaper with a large circulation, in particular in Catalonia (Spain) ('La Vanguardia'), and against Google Spain and Google Inc. The complaint was based on the fact that, when an internet user entered Mr Costeja González's name in the search engine of the Google group ('Google Search'), he would obtain links to two pages of La Vanguardia's newspaper, of 19 January and 9 March 1998 respectively, on which an announcement mentioning Mr Costeja González's name appeared for a real-estate auction connected with attachment proceedings for the recovery of social security debts.

By that complaint, Mr Costeja González requested, first, that La Vanguardia be required either to remove or alter those pages so that the personal data relating to him no longer appeared or to use certain tools made available by search engines in order to protect the data. Second, he requested that Google Spain or Google Inc. be required to remove or conceal the personal data relating to him so that they ceased to be included in the search results and no longer appeared in the links to La Vanguardia.

AEPD rejected the complaint against La Vanguardia, but decided that the complaint Google was justified because "search engines are subject to data protection legislation". Google Spain disagreed: "search engines process all the information available on the internet without effecting a selection between personal data and other information". Data processing has multiple meanings: there are companies that process personal data and other companies that process publicly available data from the Web. Google also suggested that complaints should be directed to the sites that include personal information, not to search engines. Google sued in Spain and the lawsuit was transferred to the European Court of Justice. The Court of Justice decided that search engines process personal data.

"Google received 12,000 requests on the first day of its 'to be forgotten' campaign, in which Europeans have been given court backing to have certain links removed."

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