EU allows citizens to remove unfavorable Google, Bing, Yahoo search results

The Court of Justice of the European Union ruled today that all search engines must hear, and sometimes grant, requests for search results to be removed.

Google, Yahoo, Bing, and other search engines have been charged with weighing right to privacy issues with "the legitimate interest of Internet users potentially interested in having access to that information," the court ruled.

Mario Costeja wanted to remove a search engine result of his name that referenced an old welfare debt and property auction. The EU case was escalated to the Court of Justice after Google contested an unfavorable 2010 decision in the Spanish National Court.

On Tuesday, the Court of Justice agreed with the National Court's ruling that the item should be removed from the internet by Google.

Previously, search engines instructed citizens complaining about the presence of untrue, outdated, or prejudicial information online to contact the website administrator. Tuesday's ruling puts the responsibility on the search engines' shoulders, and cannot be appealed.

Google spokesman Al Verney called the ruling "disappointing... for search engines and online publishers in general," according to the Associated Press.

Open Rights Group, a European digital rights organization, expressed concern over potential censoring of online content.

"We need to take into account individuals' right to privacy, but if search engines are forced to remove links to legitimate content that is already in the public domain... it could lead to online censorship," policy director Javier Ruiz said.

For Costeja and other right to privacy advocates, today's ruling was a victory.

"It's a great relief to be shown that you were right when you have fought for your ideas. It's a joy," Costeja told the Associated Press.

"If Google was great before, it's perfect now, because there are game rules to go by."