Google fined €600,000 for violating European privacy rules on person’s ‘right to be forgotten’ online
The Belgian Data Protection Authority (APD) has fined Google €600,000 for failure to comply European rules on a person’s “right to be forgotten” online. The fine, which is the highest fine ever imposed by the Belgian authority, came after Google rejected a request from a Belgian citizen to have obsolete and damaging search results removed from the site’s search results. The fine is more than 10 times bigger than the authority’s previous record penalty.
Google failed to remove links from its search results to articles which APD said were “obsolete” and damaging to the reputation of a person with a public profile in Belgium. The news articles, which appeared in results linked to the person’s name, related to unfounded complaints of harassment. Google was “negligent” in deciding not to remove the links, given that the company had evidence that the facts were irrelevant and out of date, APD said.
The complainant, who plays a role in public life, asked Google Belgium to remove the search results linked to his name from their search engine. Some of the pages he wanted to be removed from the search results concern possible links to a political party that he refutes, and the second concerns harassment that was declared unfounded many years ago. Google decided not to remove any of the affected pages from the search results.
Hielke Hijmans, Chairman of the Disputes Chamber said:
“The right to be forgotten must strike the right balance between the public’s right of access to information on the one hand and the data subject’s rights and interests, on the other hand. Articles may be considered necessary for the right to information, while others, which relate to unproven harassment should be forgotten, as it could significantly damage the complainant’s reputation for the internet user through their commonly used search engine, Google has clearly shown negligence.”
Google said it intends to appeal the decision in court, and had worked hard to “strike a sensible, principled balance between people’s rights of access to information and privacy.”
“We didn’t believe this case met the European Court of Justice’s criteria for delisting published journalism from search — we thought it was in the public’s interest that this reporting remain searchable,” a Google spokesperson said.
The EU’s top court enshrined the “right to be forgotten” principle in 2014 when it ruled that people could ask search engines like Google to remove inadequate or irrelevant information from web results appearing under searches for their names.
APD also ordered Google to stop referencing the pages inside Europe, and provide clearer information on which entities are responsible for handling “right to be forgotten” requests.