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Google wins first "right to be forgotten" case in Finland

Internet and search giant Google has prevailed in a case involving a private individual looking to remove information about himself from search engine results. The case marks the first time the EU's controversial new "right to be forgotten" rule has been tested in Finland.

Kasvojen musta siluetti on vastakkain Googlen haku -sivuston kanssa.
Image: Philippe Huguen / AFP

Finland’s Data Protection Ombudsman has handed down his first ruling in a dispute over removing information from Google’s search engine results. The Ombudsman ruled that Google had no duty to remove the search results relating to a Finnish man’s business blunders.

According to Data Protection Ombudsman Reijo Aarnio there was no need to delete the search results because Finland’s business register lists the man as still being involved in business operations, including debt collection.

The complainant described himself as an employee, and said that negative information about his previous business activities is no longer relevant. Having previously been turned down by Google itself, the man took his complaint to the Ombudsman.

Ombudsman Aarnio is currently dealing with about 30 similar cases. He did not want to speculate on which of them would be the first case in which he called on Google to remove data from search results.

Aiming for consistent practices

Aarnio and colleagues in many other European countries are now facing a welter of similar cases. They hope to see as common an approach as possible to practices and interpretations of the rules. Each case will however require thorough review, Aarnio stressed, adding that the first decision helps ease the case load.

Under the umbrella of European Union data protection legislation there have so far been some 250,000 thousand requests to remove information from more than 900,000 Google search engine results. Google has so far complied with some 40 percent of those requests.

In Finland there have been close to 3,700 requests to remove information from roughly 12,000 search results. Google has conformed to about 45 percent.

Still a controversial rule

In May 2014, the European Commission ruled that individuals have a right to ask internet search engines to remove information about them from search results. The ruling requires Google and other search engine companies to comply with requests to remove information that could be considered irrelevant, misleading or dated.

If the company rejects the request, the individual may appeal the decision to his or her national data protection ombudsman, who may then order the information to be removed if it is considered relevant, or preserved if is considered to be of general significance.

The move to enshrine the right to be forgotten in law sparked debate over freedom of expression, censorship and revising history. Supporters of the rule have pointed to an individual’s right to protection from mistakes made in the distant past or a digital footprint caused by malicious acts committed by third persons.

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