Information may be inadequate, irrelevant or excessive, but is it still available?

As has been widely reported, in May this year the European Court of Justice (ECJ) ruled against Google and in favour of a Spanish individual, Mario Costeja Gonzalez, who was claiming his “right to be forgotten” (see our previous article). Mr Gonzalez had requested that Google remove any reference to newspaper reports from 1998 (where Mr Gonzalez’s name appeared alongside proceedings for the recovery of social security debts) from any of Google’s search results. Under European data protection legislation, records of any personal data must remain “accurate” and “adequate, relevant and not excessive”. In Mr Gonzalez’s case it was found that the search results provided information that was no longer relevant and Google was ordered to remove these details from its search results.

Since the ECJ’s judgment, Google has been inundated with requests to remove items from its search results. For the two and a half month period from the judgment in May until mid July, in the UK alone, Google received around 12,000 removal requests and the total number of requests across the EU for the period was over 91,000. As more and more requests are submitted for content to be removed, will other search engines now provide the details and information that you are searching for?

Google currently has an 88% share of the global search engine market, and so a request to be removed from Google’s search results will certainly help to keep the information less readily available. However, it remains to be seen how many requests that are submitted to Google are also submitted to the likes of Bing and Yahoo as well. The content that a business or individual is looking to remove from Google may well still remain available via another search engine. In fact, searching on Google.com, or any search engine that is not registered within the EU, will provide an unedited search.

Indeed, the more canny researcher may now switch to other search engines, or those registered outside the EU, in order to try and ascertain the full picture. Removal from a Google search result does not remove the webpage hosting the content. Businesses looking to carry out background checks and due diligence may find it more prudent to stop Googling and start searching online through other providers. Similarly, searching directly on news sites and social media (mediums not currently deemed to be “data controllers” in the same manner as search engines) might also reveal details that businesses or individuals are trying to hide.

Only time will tell, but the ECJ’s decision could yet prove to change the way we search online.