Can Google Be Forced to Forget?

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Rick Santorum may not be a fan of European healthcare systems or growing secular populations, but he might be grateful to hear of a lawsuit handed down by Europe’s highest court. The European Court of Justice in Luxembourg put down a ruling that pits a blow against Google (NASDAQ:GOOG) (NASDAQ:GOOGL), essentially stating that people have a certain right to privacy online, which includes asking the search giant to remove sensitive information from the company’s search results. The court has basically said that Google must allow users to delete images, text, or any other files individuals don’t wish to have public — in certain cases.

The ruling throws a huge wrench into the gears of Google’s inner-workings in Europe, forcing the company to completely revamp how it handles privacy issues. Marc Rotenberg, Executive Director of the Electronic Privacy Information Center, told USA Today the court’s decision will be a huge burden on Google and others in the search industry. “It’s going to create additional burdens for Google and other companies, and everyone understands that. But that’s the cost of doing business if your business involves disseminating information,” he said.

The decision will have a huge ripple effect throughout Europe, as it applies to all citizens of the European Union and all search engines, including Yahoo (NASDAQ:YHOO) and Microsoft’s (NASDAQ:MSFT) Bing, must comply. The ruling cannot be appealed, and with the combined populations of all of Europe, brings the possibility of more than 500 million people looking to amend search results.

The ruling itself goes back to a 1995 law that established limited rights for data protection, which implores companies to essentially “forget” certain users after a period of time by not displaying links to pages containing sensitive content. Search engines like Google and Yahoo will be held liable for content its algorithm’s produce, which also has advocates of free speech worried at the ruling’s implications.

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