It’s very hard to forget on the internet. For example, people may defend themselves against the fact that search engines such as Google display questionable articles about them in the hits. But they must provide “reasonable and sufficient evidence” that the information contained is completely incorrect – or at least “a part that is not insignificant to the whole content”. The Federal Court of Justice (BGH) ruled on Tuesday in Karlsruhe.
However, search engine operators are not obliged to investigate this themselves and remove hits and possible incorrect information from the list or even reach those affected. This poses a risk that links that are in fact unobjectionable and important for public information will no longer appear – because the operators want to save themselves the work of investigation, explained the presiding judge of the sixth civil senate at the BGH, Stephan Seiters.
Senior civil judges in Germany followed the decision of the European Court of Justice (ECJ).
Seiters: The effort must be rational
According to Seiters, the efforts that those affected should make to disprove false information should be reasonable. What exactly that means and when the evidence is relevant and sufficient must be assessed on a case-by-case basis. This is clear when the judgment proves that the information is not true. In addition, the basic requirement is that the personal data is completely visible in the text that is the subject of the complaint.
Reemt Matthiesen, a lawyer at the international law firm CMS Germany, spoke of the enormous obstacles. So-called deletion cannot be done “on demand”.
Lawyer Christian Solmecke from WBS.Legal law firm called the decision a clear victory for Google. BGH creates transparency for those affected. “But it also makes it more difficult for them to have false reports about them removed from Google search results.” After all, the previous decision of the ECJ helps those affected, according to which it is not necessary to first prosecute the author of a possible lie. information before someone contacts Google.
The BGH largely rejected the plaintiffs’ appeal
In this particular case, it was about a couple from the financial industry who found themselves being insulted on the internet. The plaintiffs wanted several important articles about their investment model to stop appearing as top hits when you search Google for their names.
An American website had published the text. Its operator was also accused of launching negative reports to deceive the victims.
Google did not remove article links. The reason given was that it was impossible to judge whether there was anything to the allegations.
The Higher Regional Court of Cologne, as an appeals court, ruled in 2018 that Google could continue to display most of the text in question. Plaintiffs failed to demonstrate a clear violation of rights in the required manner.
The BGH upheld this decision and largely rejected the plaintiffs’ appeal. However, he agreed with them that no photos with them can be displayed without any context in the trending lists – the so-called preview images (“thumbnails”).
The right to your own photo
Without context, taken only by themselves, images are meaningless, explained Richter Seiters in the announcement. Here the right to one’s own image prevails – even if one clicks through to access the corresponding page and text. The display of such thumbnails was not justified.
Lawyer Matthiesen explained: “The assessment of the deletion of texts and thumbnails may therefore differ in the future.”
The fact that the ECJ dealt with the topic is also due to procedure: the BGH advised it in 2020 because there are similar data protection standards throughout the European Union. The Luxembourg decision on this has been available since December 2022, the basic information of which the BGH has now been transferred to a special case.
If the news is true, the publication should be accepted anyway, Seiters continued. Nothing else applies to images that are printed with text.