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Google Australia-NZ takes dim view of EU 'right to be forgotten' ruling

A European court has backed the "right to be forgotten" and said Google must delete "inadequate, irrelevant or no longer relevant" data from its results when a member of the public requests it, The Guardian reports.

The precedent was set by the European Union's Court of Justice  in a case against Google Spain brought by a Spanish man, Mario Costeja Gonzále  after he failed to secure the deletion of an auction notice of his repossessed home dating from 1998 on the website of a mass circulation newspaper. Costeja González argued that the matter, in which his house had been auctioned to recover his social security debts, had been resolved and should no longer be linked to him whenever his name was searched on Google. The EU court agreed, ruling the test case in the Spaniards' favour.

It's a decision that will warm the heart of anyone who has done an ego search only to find a link to an embarrassing pic or blog post — or something nasty posted about themselves by a third-party.

But don't expect the landmark EU case to have any impact on Google's behaviour in this part of the world.

Google Australia-NZ spokesman Johnny Luu echoed the search giant's company line on the outcome, telling NBR,  “This is a disappointing ruling for search engines and online publishers in general. 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.”

The Advocate General is an independent impartial judge who reviewed the case to provide an opinion to the full court of the EU Court of Justice. His review said, in part, “Suppressing legitimate and legal information that has entered the public domain would entail an interference with the freedom of expression of the publisher of the web page.”

Google has also found a support in Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales and his series of tweets including "ECJ says 'when in doubt, delete'. New, clearly weakening freedom of expression. Priority not balance."
Here, the right to demand Google delete a link about you remains untested.
In a 2012 case at the High Court in Auckland, a psychiatrist sought to have Google held accountable as a publisher for including links to defamatory articles about him in its search results. However, the case foundered.
"The application for strike out is dismissed on the grounds that this is a developing area of the law and that it is arguable that the defendants are publishers," Associate Judge David Abbott wrote in his decision.

"The plaintiff’s concern that removal of specific web pages and deactivation of the hyperlink appears to be an impotent response may turn out to be a matter more suited to determination by legislation."

Lawyer and intellectual property specialist Michael Wigley told NBR that while the case was had been undermined by a technicality: that Google NZ — a shell company — had been sued rather than Google Inc in the US, which actually operates the Google search engine. Justice Abbott indicated in his non-binding comments he would otherwise have let the case go to trial. 

Matthew McClelland, who represented the plaintiff, known only as "A", said the psychiatrist couldn't afford to pursue Google Inc through the US court system.

Google has a process for people to request a link be removed from its search engine (see the online form here). However, the plaintiff had found the process ineffective, and had been unable to reach a person at Google.

Legislative help, of sorts, is on the way for New Zealand users of search engines, and social media.

The Harmful Digital Communications Bill allows, among other things, for the creation of a an approved agency (expected to be NetSafe, part funded by the Police and Government), which can take up your content removal case if it involves an element of cyberbullying, and advocate on your behalf to Google, Facebook or Twitter. It's better than nothing. The average person will have little or no chance of reaching a human at Google. NetSafe can.


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Comments and questions

Interesting situation. Shows how automation of information can produce harmfull effects on people, who cannot get through the electronic doors (eg: help desks) to have a sensible discussion ! Incompetent organisations and management hide behind such electronic walls.