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The European Union’s highest court ruled that Google must remove information from search results if users prove the information incorrect.

The Court of Justice disclosed the ruling in a statement. Google, Bing and other search engines have to comply with search result removal requests if the applicant’s evidence checks out, the court said.

True or false

The decision was sparked by a lawsuit in Germany. Two executives from an investor group dragged Google through the courts after the tech giant refused to remove their information from search results.

The executives’ names and photos were listed in the search results of articles critical of the investor group. According to the executives, the information was inaccurate.

The two wrote to Google, but the tech giant replied with a standard response. By its own admission, Google could not determine whether the information was correct or incorrect. The search results were left untouched.

The dilemma

Removing information from Google’s search results has never been easy. Historically, the tech giant only responds to requests on rare occasions. Examples include misinformation about worldwide problems and the personal data of defamation victims.

In recent months, the policy seems to be changing. Google recently introduced a feature that helps users submit deletion requests (‘Results About You‘).

Despite the new feature, the process remains difficult. There’s a good reason for this. If Google took every applicant at their word, some search results would be unfairly changed or removed. That’s a violation of freedom of speech.

The consequences of ignoring every request aren’t much better. Online information can haunt people for years. Unfounded allegations often have profound effects on personal relationships and careers.

The German court that heard the aforementioned executives faced a dilemma. Should Google have believed the request? Is the tech giant even in a position to distinguish true from false? The court decided to seek advice from the Court of Justice, the highest court in the European Union.

The ruling

The Court of Justice recently ruled that Google should have removed the executives’ data. The evidence provided was sufficient, the court said. The ruling is relevant to Google and all other search engines operating in the European Union, including Bing and DuckDuckGo.

“The operator of a search engine must de-reference information found in the referenced content where the person requesting de-referencing proves that such information is manifestly inaccurate”, the court ruled.

‘Proof’ is a broad term. The decision does not mean that Google must now comply with every request that includes ‘evidence’. The decision does mean that judges in member states have a new guideline to follow when they’re required to decide on similar matters.

The tech giant will have to review the evidence of deletion requests carefully. If Google rejects a request, faces the applicant in court and is found to have neglected evidence, the tech giant has a problem. Google can no longer call on neutrality.