Q&A: The ECJ ruling on Google

Q. What does the  ruling mean?

A. A huge amount for private individuals and everyday users of the internet. If, when you type your name into Google or any other big search engine, the results throw up information that is highly personal, sensitive or damaging, the relevant companies could be required to remove it. Proponents of the ruling, such as supporters of privacy rights, say internet users should be able erase their digital profiles in cyberspace.

Q. Why is it a blow to freedom of speech campaigners?

A. The case pits free speech advocates against data protection supporters. The former argue that the ruling creates a grey area as to what information is deemed “inadequate, irrelevant or no longer relevant”. For example, what is stopping someone instructing a search engine to remove information about them that they simply don’t like, or is critical, such as a blog or a media article? An individual with a shady past could exploit the proposed changes in legislation. 

Q. Who will it benefit?

A. Legal experts say the ruling, if made law, would benefit “Joe Public” and not figures like celebrities, sportstars and politicians where there is a genuine public interest. Internet companies, though, will have to decide for themselves whether someone is a public or private figure – another possible bone of contention. Search giants like Google are also opposed to the changes because of the extra costs incurred of removing data online.

Q. What needs to happen for this to become law?

A. All 28 member states of the European Union need to approve it.

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