Google required to delist search results under right to be forgotten


In 2009, Spanish citizen Mario Costeja González objected to the fact that an auction notice from 1998, when his home was repossessed, was still accessible on the website of the Spanish newspaper La Vanguardia and the first thing people saw when they searched for him on Google. When the courts declined to order the newspaper to remove the announcement, Costeja asked Google Spain to stop linking to it in search results on his name. When Google did nothing more than forward the complaint to its California haedquarters, Costeja filed a complaint with the Spanish Data Protection Agency, Agencia Española de Protección de Datos (AEPD). AEPD rejected Costeja's complaint against the newspaper, but upheld his complaint against Google Spain and Google Inc. and ordered them to remove the links. Both Google divisions filed legal attempts to reverse the decision that were eventually referred to the Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU), which ultimately ruled in Costeja's favour. The judges argued that including links in Google's search results that related to an individual who wanted them removed was incompatible with data protection law and ruled that Google is a data controller in EU countries where it has a subsidiary to promote the service and sell advertising. The judges also, however, noted that there is a public interest defence, particularly where individuals are involved in public life. 

After the Costeja decision, Google received thousands of delisting requests. According to the company's regularly updated transparency report, by May 2018, the company had received 681,576 requests covering 2,539,318 URLs. Of these, the company delisted about 44%. However, Google applied its deindexing solely to the complainant's national Google site; in 2015, the French data protection agency, CNIL, ordered Google to delist such results from all its domains, including In 2016, Google indicated it would block access to those links by removing them from its European servers and geoblocking European users from reaching its other servers. CNIL, however, found this proposal unacceptable, demanding that Google remove such results from all its servers, and fined the company €100,000 for violating individuals' rights to object to data processing and to request deletion. In 2017 the court hearing Google's appeal referred some of the legal questions surrounding extraterritoriality to the CJEU for a preliminary ruling.

Many Americans have viewed the European requirement as violating users' freedom of speech rights; however, Europeans more commonly view it as an attempt to balance two fundamental human rights against each other: freedom of speech and an individual's right to privacy.

tags: Google, Costeja, CJEU, regulatory actions, right to be forgotten, data protection law, censorship, geoblocking, CNIL, extraterritoriality

Writer: Alan Travis and Charles Arthur, Google, Mark Scott, Natasha Lomas

Publication: Guardian, Google Transparency Report, New York Times, TechCrunch

See more examples
Related learning resources
Target Profile