Google has to delete private data, says EU court

Court case

Google will be required to remove all personal information that appears on its search engine following a landmark court loss in Europe.

The decision, by the European Court of Justice, found that search engines like Google were "controllers" of personal data, responsible for the results and information that is presented to its users. The company had argued that it simply hosts content, rather than endorsing it.

The ruling means that Google will have to respond to any and all requests to remove private information that plaintiffs consider to be harmful. Even if the Menlo Park, California-based firm refuses a request, it will be obliged to employ data protection methods if ordered to by a court.

Exemptions to the rule include persons considered prominent in the public eye, like politicians or celebrities. Due to the European Court of Justice being the highest court in Europe, Google is unable to appeal the decision.

The fallout from the decision may turn out to be far-reaching. Other search engine operators like Microsoft and Yahoo might have to significantly overhaul their search practices in Europe to avoid similar court troubles.

The case's origins lie in Spain, where a citizen asked Google to delete links related to his house's auction. Spain's highest authority held up the complaint and Google moved it to the ECJ, arguing that it was not responsible for data published legally elsewhere.

Google has to face up to a number of legal challenges across the continent over its policies on data protection.

"This is a disappointing ruling for search engines and online publishers in general," Google said in a statement.

"We are very surprised that it differs so dramatically from the advocate-general's opinion and the warnings and consequences that he spelled out. We now need to take time to analyse the implications."