In a landmark decision, the Court of Justice of the European Union has ruled in favour of a right to be forgotten – an enormous win for privacy, and anyone who has google-searched their own name and been less than impressed with the results.

The case was brought against Google by a Spanish man, Mario Costeja González, who complained that Google search engine results, which returned articles about the repossession of his home over 16 years ago, were an invasion of his privacy.

The highest European Court agreed, ordering Google to delete “inadequate, irrelevant or no longer relevant” hits about Mr Costeja González, which were returned when his name was searched.

The decision means that individuals who object to how their personal information is returned by online searches should now be able to request that their data be erased from the search results. This will no doubt create significant challenges for any internet company publishing links to personal information online – and Google aren’t happy about it.

Does this mean that individuals can demand that any information about them which they don’t like or find embarrassing be deleted? It will be interesting to see how this develops. In particular, social media websites will be taking notice –  Many of us have posted things, or have been tagged in photo’s that we’d rather forget!

The outcome is also important because it positions Google as a “data controller” – as opposed to a neutral intermediary –  for content that it links to. This places far greater responsibility on search engine providers in how they handle personal information.

The ruling is a huge step forward for increasing individuals’ control over their personal information online, and reflects the tough stance of the European Union in protecting information privacy.  How it will play out in Australia, however, remains to be seen. The Australian Law Reform Commission has recommended a ‘right to be deleted,’ but this would only apply to information published by the individual, and not information published by others.

We will be watching this space closely, and will report back on this topic as the law develops.