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Google must respect people's 'right to be forgotten' and delete sensitive links when requested: European court

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Google is no stranger when it comes to controversies related to online privacy. We have reported how the search company lost a lawsuit related to tricking Apple's Safari browser in order to force tracking cookies onto users. Google had to reach a $17 million settlement due to that lawsuit. It appears, the company is now being tested across the waters in Europe in a major way that goes beyond just aspect of privacy online, but privacy of all individuals.

The "right to be forgotten" initiative was supported in a recent ruling by the European Union Court of Justice, brought by Mario Costeja González. This initiative deals with an individual who may have had personal data on the Web at some point, whether they put it up there themselves or not, and wants to erase this data from further inquiry.

The case dealt with González failing to secure a deletion of an auction notice of a repossessed home from 1998 on a website that was part of a circulated newspaper from Catalonia. However, he is not a public figure, so the court decided he as an individual has the right to control private data on the Internet or erase previous data he may have made available for others to view.

What may surprise many of us living here in the states about the Europeans is that they have pretty strong privacy laws when it comes to technology. I say surprise due to the lenient nature of many European cultures - from nude beaches being common in some parts of the continent to magazines and late-night TV featuring nudity.

However, the EU has tough regulations when it comes to user data in some industries, such as banking, related to customer data being transferred between countries (hence why cloud computing can be dicey sometimes). Now that the U.S.-based NSA is spying on online users and big corporations such as Facebook and Google are taking user data and selling it to the highest bidder, the Europeans are showing that they value the individual rights over the rights of corporate bottom line.

Deleting oneself from the Web may seem easy on paper, but in today's age of Google algorithms and Way Back Machine, it is harder than it looks. Let's hope this ruling will make it possible in the not too distant future to control one's data even -- after hitting the submit button via Flickr, Wordpress or Facebook.

The Dutch have previously expressed concern with Google over data privacy. That combined with other recent cases, such as this ruling, show that Facebook may not be the big bad wolf some claim it is when it comes to data privacy from its users, but Google may be even worse in this regard. The difference may lie in what the companies do with the data they collect or track.

Check out this feature from the Stanford Law Review to learn more about "the right to be forgotten" and how its aim is to be a privacy law for all.

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