Google received a welcome victory in the European Union’s highest court in relation to the EU’s “right to be forgotten” rules.
For the past five years, EU citizens have enjoyed the right to have search engines remove embarrassing or outdated information from their indexes. At the heart of the case was whether the right to be forgotten extended beyond EU borders.
The CNIL, a French privacy regulatory body, had ordered Google to expand the right to be forgotten globally. Google resisted, citing concerns that authoritarian regimes in other parts of the world would abuse the feature to cover up crimes and human rights violations. The CNIL eventually tried to levy a $109,901 fine.
Ultimately, however, the EU ruled that the right to protect personal data was not an absolute right, and that there was no obligation for Google—or any other search engine—to delist search results outside of the EU.
While Google praised the decision, it is not without complications. Google has relied on geoblocking to ensure EU citizens do not see delisted search results. Geoblocking does not, however, mean that the search results are not there—it simply means they are not accessible to someone within the EU. A person based in the U.S., or anywhere else outside of Europe, would still be able to find the very things someone in Europe may have filed to have delisted and will never see themselves.
Despite the complications, the ruling was welcomed within the tech community. The case was being watched closely to see how much authority the EU had to impose regulations on a U.S. company. Had Google lost, the long-term implications for Google and every other tech firm would have been profound—and gone far beyond mere search results.