EU backs Google over search result privacy

The internet search giant Google is not obliged to honour user requests to delete sensitive information from its searches, an advisor to Europe's highest court said on Tuesday.

EU backs Google over search result privacy
The EU court said asking search engines to suppress legal information would infringe on freedom of expression. Photo: Karen Bleier/AFP

In the non-binding decision, the adviser to the European Court of Justice said the tech company was bound by European Union (EU) privacy laws but did not have to delete sensitive information from its search indexes.

The court — Europe's highest — issued a statement explaining the decision which stated : "Requesting search engine service providers to suppress legitimate and legal information that has entered the public domain would entail an interference with the freedom of expression."

"Search engine service providers are not responsible, on the basis of the Data Protection Directive, for personal data appearing on web pages they process," the court said in its advice.

 "This is a good opinion for free expression," Bill Echkison, a spokesman for Google, said in a statement.

"We are glad to see it supports our long-held view that requiring search engines to suppress 'legitimate and legal information' would amount to censorship," he said.

The EU court is expected to hand down its final judgement on the matter by the end of 2013.

Eighty percent of such advice is accepted by the court's judges, reported Spanish national daily El Pais on Tuesday.

The opinion comes in the wake of action launched against Google by Spain's date protection agency, the APGD in 2010.

The agency had demanded that Google delete any search results linked to a property auction notice in a newspaper, El Pais reported.

By doing so, the AGPD was responding to a petition brought forward by a private citizen in Mario Casteja.

Casteja said his right to privacy had been infringed by the continued online existence of a notice about his home being dispossessed.

He said the matter had been resolved, and that the article should now be deleted.

The AGPD took action against Google, but refused to delete the original article saying that its purpose had been to raise the maximum amount of money through tenders, and was therefore in the public interest.

In related news, Spain opened sanction proceedings against Google on Thursday for suspected serious breaches of data protection laws, acting just hours after France threatened the Internet giant with fines.

The agency said it acted after investigating Google's new policy, introduced last year, which enables it to track the activity of users across its search engine, Gmail, the Google+ social networking platform and other services it owns, which include YouTube.

The changes make it easier for Google to collect and process data that could be used by advertisers to target individuals with offers tailored to their specific interests, thereby increasing the company's revenue potential.

Spain said Google Spain and Google Inc.'s new policy could allow it to combine personal information collected from different services and use it for other ends.

"Google does not give clear information about the use it will make of users' data, so they are unable to know precisely why their personal data is being collected or how it will be used," the agency said in a statement.

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Google News to return to Spain after seven-year spat

Google announced Wednesday the reopening of its news service in Spain next year after the country amended a law that imposed fees on aggregators such as the US tech giant for using publishers’ content.

Google News to return to Spain after seven-year spat
Google argues its news site drives readers to Spanish newspaper and magazine websites and thus helps them generate advertising revenue.Photo: Kenzo TRIBOUILLARD / AFP

The service closed in Spain in December 2014 after legislation passed requiring web platforms such as Google and Facebook to pay publishers to reproduce content from other websites, including links to their articles that describe a story’s content.

But on Tuesday the Spanish government approved a European Union copyright law that allows third-party online news platforms to negotiate directly with content providers regarding fees.

This means Google no longer has to pay a fee to Spain’s entire media industry and can instead negotiate fees with individual publishers.

Writing in a company blog post on Wednesday, Google Spain country manager Fuencisla Clemares welcomed the government move and announced that as a result “Google News will soon be available once again in Spain”.

“The new copyright law allows Spanish media outlets — big and small — to make their own decisions about how their content can be discovered and how they want to make money with that content,” she added.

“Over the coming months, we will be working with publishers to reach agreements which cover their rights under the new law.”

News outlets struggling with dwindling print subscriptions have long seethed at the failure of Google particularly to pay them a cut of the millions it makes from ads displayed alongside news stories.

Google argues its news site drives readers to newspaper and magazine websites and thus helps them generate advertising revenue and find new subscribers.