Google data ruling: our 'right to be forgotten' has been enshrined in law

The European Court of Justice has told Google to delete personal data we see as 'potentially harmful'. Goodbye, dodgy teenage photos...

by Emma Haslett
Last Updated: 11 Sep 2014

As anyone who has had the deeply creepy experience of being wished happy birthday by a Google Doodle will testify, the search giant knows altogether too much about us. But now the search engine has been forced by the European Court of Justice to delete stuff about us that we see as ‘potentially harmful’.

Those pictures of you with Nigel from accounts at last year’s Christmas party? Gone. That blog you started when you were going through your ‘angry phase’ as a teenager but now you can’t remember the password to delete it? Gone. That time you filed a parliamentary expense claim for a duck house? Not gone, we’re afraid: anything where there would be a strong public interest case against removing it will stay.

Alas, this is only for the stuff people really want removed: Google has the right to refuse requests by individuals, but would have to do as it was told if a data protection agency or a court asks it to take information down.  

The ruling is potentially quite scary for other major tech firms: it means they’re ‘controllers’ of personal information, even if it’s originally published on blogs or newspaper websites.

Pundits have pointed out that this is just another nail in the coffin for the EU’s 19-year-old data protection laws – although others argue that actually, it proves that the current legislation is strong enough to keep the big boys in check. Don’t expect this to be the last we hear of it, mind. Data privacy campaigners have a history of being rather shouty…

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