Europe’s top court has ruled that US search giant Google does not have to apply globally a previous ruling that it comply with requests to remove online links, limiting “de-referencing” to just European Union domains.
The landmark case stems from a legal battle waged by France to impose a “right to be forgotten” on the web.
The European Court of Justice’s (ECJ) ruling on Tuesday prevented the 28-member EU from acquiring unprecedented powers to regulate the internet beyond its borders.
In 2014, judges from the same court granted the right for individuals, under certain conditions, to have references to them removed from search engine results.
In January this year, the court’s top legal adviser, Advocate General Maciej Szpunar, said he was “not in favour of giving the provisions of EU law such a broad interpretation” that they apply outside the bloc’s member states.
He recommended that the court “should limit the scope of the de-referencing that search engine operators are required to carry out, to the EU”.
That means the “right to be forgotten” will be seen only on European versions of the Google search page – google.fr or google.de, say – but not on google.com or other domains outside the EU.
The ECJ said on Tuesday that a search engine operator must put measures in place to discourage internet users from going outside the EU to find that information.
Since 2014, Google has had to weigh nearly 850,000 separate requests to remove links to about 3.3m websites.
Its staff have taken on a semi-regulatory role to strike a balance between what information should stay public and what should now be removed.
Since 2016, the company has used so-called “geoblocking” to filter all Google site results to Europeans so they won’t see information a person in their country wants to limit.