Making Google Forget You Won't Be So Easy

NEW YORK (TheStreet) -- There was a time when people enjoyed ego surfing -- going onto Google (GOOG) and entering your name to see how many results the search engine threw up about you.

Times have changed.

Mario Costeja Gonzalez, a Spanish citizen, didn't like what he found when he surfed his name on Google. His complaint to Spanish authorities over displaying search results related to an auction in 1998 of his repossessed home ended up dragging Google to the European Court of Justice.

Gonzalez claimed the repossession matter had been legally settled and any public reference impinged upon his privacy. This week the court agreed.

The court's finding has rekindled the debate on whether in today's information age individuals have the "right to be forgotten," and what that means for Google.

Under the order Google must now remove the offending results permanently from its servers. The court calling the information in question "inadequate, irrelevant or no longer relevant or excessive...in the light of the time that had elapsed."

By characterizing Google as a controller of data rather than a reporter of data -- such as a newspaper -- the court has passed a heavy burden of responsibility onto the search giant. There are 200 similar "right to be forgotten" cases pending in Spain alone, so Google execs could soon be swamped by such requests.

Google reacted strongly to the judgement. Calling it "disappointing" and claiming to be "surprised" by the court's interpretation of privacy, the company is expected to circle the wagons and mount a vigorous campaign to oppose this becoming a general principle.

It will get much needed support from certain quarters including the UK's ruling establishment, who are bucking the "right to be forgotten" wave. The UK Justice Secretary Chris Grayling has been leading efforts to opt-out of article 17 of the European General Data Protection Regulation, which governs the "right to be forgotten."

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