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The European Court of Justice imposes on search engines obligation to remove information on a person if proven to be incorrect

December 8, 2022, the European Court of Justice (ECJ) has rendered a judgment in Case C-460/20[1] imposing on search engines (such as Google) obligation to remove ‘thumbnails’ (referenced content) if the person that requests such removal proves that the information is inaccurate.

The judicial review was triggered by several managers of investment companies, who have found misleading information on a certain investment technique mentioning their names and names of their companies, including mentioning their photos in ‘thumbnails’. They have requested Google to delete this information providing proofs that such information is fake. After Google refused to do so, they have sought the judgment on whether such refusal constitutes a breach of GDPR and their rights to private life and their personal data.

The ECJ has analyzed (1) obligations and responsibilities incumbent on the operator of the search engine and (2) display of photos in thumbnails accompanying the misleading text and concluded that:

  1. If a person submits a ‘relevant evidence capable of substantiating his or her request and of establishing the manifest inaccuracy of the information’ (especially if a supervisory authority or the judiciary authority concludes so), the operator of search engine has to delete such information, or – even if such lawsuit on the validity of a certain information is ongoing – to warn so on the webpage; and
  2. The context of pictures found in ‘thumbnails’ should be taken into consideration when a question of validity of information arises.

The judgment of the ECJ may be helpful to individual investors, UBOs and top-managers of the company that may suffer of misinformation on the internet regarding the company and themselves. The mechanism set out in the ECJ judgment might help them to protect their rights to privacy and their personal information. Still, it is important to mention that the decision applies to manifestly inaccurate factual information (and not to “grey areas” or opinions, and the onus to provide the evidence of inaccuracy is on the applicant.

[1] Judgment of the European Court of Justice (Grand Chamber) dated December 8, 2022 in Case C-460/20 (ECLI:EU:C:2022:962). Found at: https://curia.europa.eu/juris/document/document.jsf?text=&docid=269981&pageIndex=0&doclang=EN&mode=req&dir=&occ=first&part=1&cid=183127.