If you thought Google was the only organization affected by the European Court of Justice’s May decision honoring a Spanish man’s right to have a newspaper story about him erased from its search rankings, you’d be wrong. In fact, following the court’s reasoning, other companies with European operations that republish third-party content—including databases, content aggregators, and social media users—may need to pay attention, says Karin Retzer, a partner with Morrison & Foerster in Brussels.
Under European data privacy laws, individuals may be able to request erasure of information not only if it was unlawful or incorrect but also if it was “inadequate, irrelevant, or no longer relevant,” “excessive,” or not up to date. The ruling creates a quandary for organizations receiving erasure requests: erase information that readers may find interesting, or face possible legal action. The wisest course may be to assess each request on a case-bycase basis at this point, Retzer says. When Google set up a formal channel for individuals’ requests to be “forgotten,” it got 12,000 such requests—on its first day.