Privacy laws in places like the U.K. are notoriously strict—and they just got stricter yet. In a new ruling that could have huge implications across the Internet—including on Facebook and Twitter—the highest court in the European Union ruled on Tuesday that Google must allow individuals the right to delete links about themselves from its search engine.
It wouldn't necessarily delete the content Google links to; that result just wouldn't show up in the index if someone was searching for it through Google. So if, for instance, an individual requested that Google remove a link to a blog post containing embarrassing photographs, that site will still be published, but Google would have to remove that web link from its rankings. And then Googlers would have a much more difficult time finding it.
"The court is saying that Google isn't just selling adverts in Europe, but is providing content along with those services," Peter Hustinx, a European Union official in favor of data protection, tells the New York Times. "If you are a regular citizen, it gives you a remedy anywhere in Europe for you to ask companies to take down content connected to you."
It all ties back to what the EU court deems an individual's "right to be forgotten." Google has long held that it is not in control of the information it links to, and argues that erasing search results is effectively a form of censorship. "In our view, only the original publisher can take the decision to remove such content," Bill Echikson, Google's Head of Free Expression, said last year in a blog post. "[S]earch engines should not be subject to censorship of legitimate content for the sake of privacy—or for any other reason."