Latest European Court of Justice Ruling on Dereferencing from Search Engines


A significant decision was published by the European Court of Justice (ECJ) on 8 December 2022. The decision concerns search engine operators with respect to processing requests for dereferencing webpages and image thumbnails, along with the burden of proof regarding the dereferencing.

The applicants are persons who are in managing positions in private companies. The dispute arose when three articles focusing on corruption were published on a website criticising the companies and the applicants, along with pictures depicting them in luxury vehicles.

The applicants requested Google to dereference these articles as they were inaccurate and lead to defamatory opinions. Google refused the request and argued that they were unaware of the inaccuracy of the information provided in the articles.

Subsequently, the case was brought before the European Court of Justice by the Federal Court of Justice of Germany, requesting an interpretation on GDPR and the Directive on the Protection of Individuals with regard to the Processing of Personal Data and on the Free Movement of Such Data.

As a preliminary point the Court of Justice referred to its previous rulings, in which it has ruled that the processes and activities of a search engine constitute “data processing” and in this capacity, Google is a data controller. Also, in these decisions, it was pointed out that the extent of responsibilities of the search engine do not arise from personal data appearing on a third-party’s page. Instead, it results from internet users conducting web searches with an individual’s name, will result with a display of a list that has the potential to significantly affect the data subject’s fundamental rights to privacy and to the protection of the personal data.

However, ECJ also decided that search engine operators should not be expected to actively investigate the truthfulness of the request. Instead, only the “prima facia”, found it sufficient to make an evaluation by adhering to the criteria of apparent accuracy and to remove it from the list if the condition exists. According to the Court, investigating the actual situation in detail is a burden that ultimately falls on administrative or judicial bodies.

In the second question posed by the Federal Court of Germany, the image thumbnails are discussed. Court underlined that images have the capacity to relay information about a person’s chief characteristics. In this manner, it finds that a separate inquiry must be carried out about the images of a dereferencing request.

Accordingly, the Court dictates that image dereferencing must be carried out alongside webpage dereferencing.

The European Court of Justice “inter alia” imposes a new responsibility for search engine operators with this decision. It is stated that the search engine provider must entail information on the references of web searches if they are made aware of any judicial proceeding taking place.

You can reach the full text of the decision here.

Tagged with: Technology, TelecomsEuropean Court of Justice, ECJ, GoogleGDPR, Search Engine Operators, Gokce, Yagmur Yollu, Elif Aksoz

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