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Web Search Industry Lose on Key Privacy Ruling

Published by: Mike Goldman on 15th May 2014 | View all blogs by Mike Goldman
Web Search Industry Lose on Key Privacy Ruling
The highest court in the European Union suggested this week that search engines like Google, Yahoo and Microsoft's Bing begin honoring requests to have their personal information removed from Internet search results.  The advisory judgment effectively backs individual privacy rights rights over freedom of information, and is expected to impact how the entire Internet search industry moves forward.  The ruling contends that an internet search on someone's name brings up a results page that is essentially a type of profile.  In compliance with European privacy regulations, private individuals should be permitted to ask to have personal information removed from that “profile”. 
Over the last decade or so, the word Google has become a household term as common as Coke or Kleenex.  In addition to referring to the company, the term has also been adopted as a verb, meaning to look somebody up on the Internet.  This ease of information has caused abundant privacy concerns, and battles over how information is searched and displayed have been ongoing for years.  It is not immediately clear exactly how the Court of Justice of the EU expects Google and other search engine operators to implement.  Spokesen for Google and Yahoo declined to comment other than to say they are still reviewing the ruling.
This week's ruling does not mean that search engines have to remove information every time they receive such a request.  Instead, the ruling recommends that the engines compare the merits of the request to the “legitimate interest of Internet users potentially interested in having access to that information.”   The ruling caught some observers off guard, as it directly contradicts the advice of the court's own top attorney.  The issue was brought before the court because the National Court of Spain requested the court's opinion on some 200 pending cases.  Tuesday's ruling will be strongly considered in all those cases.

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