EU's 'right to be forgotten' now extends to inaccurate claims about people

Google will have to remove search results for provably false claims.

Pavlo Gonchar/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images

Your "right to be forgotten" (or rather, right to erasure) in the European Union now extends to bogus claims about you. The EU's Court of Justice has ruled that Google and similar providers must remove search results on request when they're "manifestly inaccurate." People making the demands will have to prove that there are significant falsehoods, but they'll only have to provide evidence that can be "reasonably" required. They won't have to obtain a judicial ruling, in other words. The search engine creator can't be forced to actively participate in the investigation.

The judgment is a response to a case where two investment managers asked Google to delist search results for their names that linked to articles criticizing their business model. The managers argued the claims were false, and also objected to thumbnail images that were allegedly taken out of context. Google declined to honor the request, contending that it didn't know if the information was accurate.

In a statement to Politico, Google said it "welcome[d]" the ruling and would review the Court of Justice's decision. It stressed that the affected search results and thumbnails haven't been available for a long while.

The determination could help shape interpretations of the EU's General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR). You'll not only have the right to remove search data on privacy grounds (such as reports of an old conviction), but to pull content that's demonstrably false. This could theoretically help European residents reduce access to misinformation and slander, even if they're uninterested in filing lawsuits.

There are questions that remain. Notably, the court decision doesn't directly address parody. It's not clear if someone could ask Google and other search engines to delete content that's fake, but intended as a joke. It's also unknown if this could be used to hide content that's largely accurate, but includes a glaring error. A complainant could theoretically use this to minimize criticism by targeting less-than-perfect stories. However, the ruling at least lays a groundwork that could be used for future disputes.