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Google and Spain battle over privacy rights

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(Read caption) The Google logo outside Google's headquarters in Mountain View, Calif.

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Google has had problems when it comes to the right to privacy in Europe for years. In the latest suit, Google is locked in a legal battle with Spain over “the right to be forgotten.”

On Feb. 26, the Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU) heard arguments in Google's latest case. Spain's Data Protection Agency has ruled that Google breached individuals’ right to be forgotten. As a result, the search engine giant was ordered to take down links or information that can be deemed as harmful to an individual. Google, stating that such an action would set a precedent, has taken the trial to the CJEU.

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“There are clear societal reasons why this kind of information should be publicly available. People shouldn't be prevented from learning that a politician was convicted of taking a bribe, or that a doctor was convicted of malpractice,” writes William Echikson, Google’s head of Free Expression for Europe, the Middle East, and Africa, on an official Google blog. “The substantive question before the Court today is whether search engines should be obliged to remove links to valid legal material that still exists online.”

It all began when a Spanish man performed a vanity search, Googling his own name to see what popped up. To the man’s surprise, he found a link to an article from several years ago. The article detailed that a property he owned was up for auction since he had not paid his social security contributions. Now, this is just one of roughly 180 cases that Google has going on in Spain.

Mr. Echikson also writes in the company blog that Google already removes information that is found to be “incorrect, defamatory or otherwise illegal.”  It’s important to note that an algorithm decides Google’s search results. Since the search engine giant does not monitor the algorithm beyond looking for information that is “incorrect, defamatory or otherwise illegal,” Google has no editorial position. As a result, Google cannot be hit with a libel lawsuit. This was the case argued in 2012 when Germany’s former first lady, Bettina Wulff, sued the Internet search giant.

The DailyTech writes that this will be the CJEU’s opportunity to find out if Google should be held responsible for its actions, as a “controller” of information, or whether it was merely acting as a host of information.

Another question that the CJEU will have to solve is whether or not Google is in its jurisdiction. Google, based in the US, might not be subject to European privacy laws. 

If Google is found to be outside of the EU’s jurisdiction, than the many cases it faces could go away.

The CJEU is expected to reach a conclusion by the end of the year.

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For more tech news, follow Aimee on Twitter@aimee_ortiz