Mario Costeja González from Spain won his case against Google before the European Court of Justice regarding the “right to be forgotten”. He had asked Google to remove information from its search results about a repossession in 1998. The underlying debt has since long been paid off.
He won. On 13 May 2014 the European Court of Justice ruled that search engines must evaluate the merits of a take-down request by a private individual and weigh the sensitivity of the data on the applicant’s private life as well as the role that the applicant plays in public life. This line of argument is similar to the one applied in breach of privacy cases brought against newspapers or other mass media, thus acknowledging that Google and other search engines are more than just a library, especially when they rank search results. They are more like a librarian, saying “read this here first”. Having an algorithm do this is of course no valid defense.
Of course it will still be a lot of work to contact all search engines and ask them to remove some information about you, and you must keep in mind that the information (or misinformation) will still be on the internet. Whoever can find it without search engines (or surfs the web from a jurisdiction outside the EU) will still be able to read it. Nonetheless, I applaud this ruling.
The irony is that Mr González and his repossessed house is now everything but forgotten. But I am sure he was aware of that and he accepted it. Unfortunately, it is not uncommon for plaintiffs in cases before constitutional and European courts to be unable to reap the rewards of their long, arduous and often costly fights themselves. They also do this for the rest of us. We should all say ¡Gracias!