Google Spain wins lawsuit over the “right to be forgotten”
A civil court in Spain handed down last Thursday a ruling dismissing plaintiff’s claims against Google Spain over the so called “right to be forgotten”. The case is Alfacs Vacances SL v. Google Spain SL (ruling of February 23, 2012, issued by the Court of First Instance of Amposta).
While the right to be forgotten is being the subject of heavy litigation in Spain, this is one of few judicial rulings on the matter. Indeed, most claims have been brought before the Spanish Data Protection Authority, its orders being subsequently challenged before the Audiencia Nacional (the court with the power to reverse the orders issued by the DP Authority). About 130 cases are thus pending before the AN, which might be about to refer the issue to the EUJC.
The plaintiff in this civil case, Alfacs Vacances SL, runs a campsite near Tarragona. In 1978, the campsite was hit by a terrible accident with more than 200 people killed and many others severely burned when a tanker truck loaded with flammable liquid got on fire on the highway just in front of the campsite. While the accident happened more than 30 years ago – and the campsite was acquitted of any liability – it still springs out as the first search result when you search for the Alfacs campsite (Alfaques, in Spanish) on Google, including horrifying thumbnails of burned corpses. This is certainly not the kind of publicity you want for attracting new clients.
Alfacs Vacances SL filed a lawsuit against Google Spain SL, claiming that the way Google chooses to order and present its search results violates the plaintiff’s right to honor and damages its reputation. The complaint sought moral damages, as well as an injunction to stop showing those results.
Though Alfacs Vacances had sent some notices to Google Inc., the complaint was finally filed exclusively against Google Spain SL, its Spanish subsidiary, whose activity is limited to marketing and advertising services. As the entity actually running the search engine is Google Inc. – the American company – Google Spain SL alleged lack of standing to be sued. The judge accepted this contention and dismissed the case for lack of standing. Hence, and though it is a clear win for Google Spain, the ruling doesn’t address any of the underlying issues, which is somewhat disappointing.