Spain, a new front in Google’s data protection battle

Claire Walker

Datonomy’s Spanish correspondents have just posted an analysis of a recent ruling by the AEPD over Google’s autocomplete function, Google Suggest. The full analysis, which spans not only data protection but wider issues of defamation, intermediary liability and freedom of speech, is well worth a read over the weekend.

For Datonomy readers short of time, here’s a lunchtime synopsis provided by our Iberian  Datonomists,  Blanca Escribano and Marcos Garcia-Gasco.

The latest AEPD ruling

In May 2012, a citizen addressed a claim before Spain’s DP authority, the AEPD.  Google’s autocomplete function paired his name with the term “gay”, which he found a potential door of defamation against him. Now, a decision against Google has been issued by the AEPD, which recognises the data subject’s right to object.

 How does Google Suggest work?

As Datonomy readers will be familiar, Google’s autocomplete function helps users to find information quickly by predicting and displaying searches that might be similar to the one that internet surfers are typing. Suggest’s predictions are algorithmically determined based on the popularity of the searched terms, geo-location references and other  factors.

 Google’s arguments …

Google explained that Google Suggest’s predictions are based in an algorithmic system where no human intervention takes place. Google Suggest offers information automatically, which only determines that some terms often appear connected. However, it is not possible to establish a direct relation between those terms and, even more, it cannot be said that those linked terms provide any kind of information about themselves. Google also states that its autocomplete function cannot be considered a structured filing system according to the wording of the Spanish legislation and the European Directive.

 … AEPD’s  conclusions

The AEPD ruling concluded as follows:

 a)       Information associated by Google to data subjects must be considered personal data.

b)      There is a processing of personal data.

c)       Google is the controller of the relevant  processing of data.

 Thus, the AEPD recognises the right of objection of the data subject and obliges Google to take appropriate measures in order to avoid the undue association between the data subject and the term provided by Google Suggest. 

 Search engines in the EU, a restricted future?

Future implications of the AEPD’s decision are still uncertain. The legal disputes now being conducted in Spain should be added to others already being conducted in France and Germany, where Google Suggest has also been called into question.

It is worth considering whether this ‘restrictive’ EU data protection approach may put at risk the essence of search engines, or what is probably more important, third rights connected with its activity such as the freedom of expression, information and other Internet freedoms. However, it seems logical to believe that this kind of cases may be considered merely anecdotal when compared with the massive numbers of  queries per second that Google records every day.

Please see this link to read the full analysis of this interesting case.

Posted on behalf of Blanca Escribano and Marcos Garcia-Gasco, Olswang Madrid.

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