Spain To Google: Anyone Can Potentially Censor Your Index

The Spanish Data Protection Authority is treating Google not as an “intermediary” but as a “publisher” under Spanish law. That brings with it numerous burdens and obligations that potentially create a massive legal and privacy headache for Google. A similar thing happened recently in Italy where YouTube is now being classified and treated as a conventional TV broadcaster.

What’s at stake, simply put, is legal responsibility for whatever appears in Google search results — in other words the entire internet. This is much like a newspaper or magazine that bears legal responsibility for what shows up in its pages. In one of several Spanish cases Google is being asked to remove more than 100 newspaper articles that are allegedly libelous, although it’s not clear if libel has actually been proven rather than merely claimed.

A Bloomberg article, which contains some ambiguity, suggests that if Google’s appeals fail in Spain potentially anyone who doesn’t like something about them on the internet (in Google’s index) can potentially ask Google to remove it. Here’s the relevant paragraph:

The Spanish agency has ruled in 90 matters connected to Google after requests by citizens on data protection grounds, said an official at the body, who declined to be named in line with policy. They include publication of notices of debts, details on the victims of domestic violence, and sanctions imposed on officials that may affect their safety, he said.

If anyone can simply make a request that some piece of information about him or herself be removed it would represent a radical change for Spain and for Google, but also Bing, Yahoo and others. The article also suggests that the Spanish Data Protection body would be the arbiter of these decisions and Google would have little recourse but to comply. While it’s important to protect privacy what Spain is potentially creating is a scenario of censorship, unless the burden for removal were set relatively high for the requesting parties.

In the larger context of the range of actions, claims and investigations going on against Google throughout Europe one might be inclined to believe that there was a conspiracy or coordinated assault taking place.

Related posts:

Related Topics: Channel: Industry | Google: Critics | Google: Legal | Google: Outside US | Top News


About The Author: is a Contributing Editor at Search Engine Land. He writes a personal blog Screenwerk, about SoLoMo issues and connecting the dots between online and offline. He also posts at Internet2Go, which is focused on the mobile Internet. Follow him @gsterling.

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  • pakoito

    Well, spanish socialist (?) government is taking measures directly against net neutrality trying to pass a law that allows the formation a comitée able to close down pages without any legal process or a juzge. All these laws are being pushed by international entities like the RIAA, and the government can say no because most of the copyright lobby was important part of their political campaign actively helping them.

    The oposition is also stuck between angry voters, internal discrepancies from the culture lobby and international pressures.


  • Badams

    Big mistake here by Spain. I’m not sure the legislators there realise just how the internet works – similar to German lawmakers in that regard.

    I’m no fan of Google’s monopoly in the European search market and there are legitimate concerns regarding search neutrality.

    But this particular issue is a huge judicial misstep and I sincerely hope Google wins that appeal. Google’s SERPs are not a form of publication, they’re just the portal to the information.

  • searchengineman

    Wasn’t China already doing this to Google? Google is going to have no choice but to play by Spains Rules, no matter how dumb we think it is.


  • piltdown

    “Well, spanish socialist (?) government…”

    You’re just like the stupid teabaggers, waving around “socialist” when you have no damned idea what it means.

    “The politics of Spain take place in the framework of a parliamentary representative democratic constitutional monarchy, whereby the Monarch is the Head of State and the President of the Government is the head of government in a multi-party system. Executive power is vested in the government. Central legislative power is vested in the two chambers of parliament. The Judiciary is independent of the executive and the legislature.”

    Really, it’s not hard to avoid looking like an idiot. Quit falling for the bullcrap coming from the politicians who are waving “socialist” around as a derogatory term.

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