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EU court slams Google over right to be forgotten

The European Union's highest court has ruled that Google should allow people the "right to be forgotten", and should erase "irrelevant data" on its users if they request it.

The ruling is seen as a blow struck in favour of privacy rights online. Google has said the ruling was "disappointing", adding that they "now need to take time to analyse the implications".

The search giant has said in the past that it does not control data, it only offers links to information that is freely available on the Internet. Google has argued in the past that forcing it to remove data amounts to a form of censorship.

However, the purpose of the EU directive, according to the court, is to protect "the fundamental rights and freedoms of natural persons (in particular the right to privacy) when personal data are processed, while removing obstacles to the free flow of such data."

The EU Justice Commissioner, Viviane Reding, rather bizarrely celebrated the court's decision via a post to her Facebook page.

"Today's Court Judgement is a clear victory for the protection of personal data of Europeans," she wrote. "Companies can no longer hide behind their servers being based in California or anywhere else in the world."

She went on to argue that a person's data "belongs to the individual, not to the company. And unless there is a good reason to retain this data, an individual should be empowered – by law – to request erasure of this data."

She closed her message by saying "Big data need big rights."

In January, Google was fined £124,000 in France for violations of the French Data Protection Act.

At the end of 2013, Google was slammed by Dutch privacy watchdogs, who accused the company of spinning "an invisible Web of our personal data, without our consent". But that seems like small potatoes when compared to the words of Mathias Döpfner, the man behind some of Europe's best-selling newspapers. In April, Döpfner accused Google of running a "protection racket" designed to build its own digital "superstate" that "threatens the future of Europe".

Something tells us he'll be happy with this ruling.

Paul has worked as an archivist, editor and journalist, and has a PhD in the cultural and literary significance of ruins. His writing has appeared in the New York Times, The BBC, The Atlantic, National Geographic, and Discover Magazine, and he was previously Staff Writer and Journalist at ITProPortal.