Google responsible for personal data in both links and in posts on Flashback, but the provision of the links does constitute a violation of personal integrity

Svea Court of Appeal recently delivered a judgment dealing with, among other things, the extent to which Google’s responsibility for personal data extends and what could constitute a violation of personal integrity. 

A search of the complainant's name on Google Search provided several links that led to a discussion on the online discussion forum Flashback, containing information about the complainant and an insolvency situation in a housing project around 2008. The complainant claimed damages for violation of his personal integrity as a result of Google's illegitimate processing of personal data.

The Court of Appeal found that the information in all the relevant posts on Flashback constitutes personal data attributable to the complainant. Furthermore, the personal data, which occurs when showing the search results in the case, is being processed in unstructured material according to the Swedish Personal Data Act. Therefore, the so-called abuse rule is applicable. This means that the processing is only allowed if it does not violate the registered persons personal integrity. It is worth noting that this exemption rule expires in May 2018 when the new General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) is introduced and that the same rules then will apply regardless of whether the personal data is processed in a structured or unstructured form.

Google claims that the company may only be responsible for personal data in the search results and not for the content of third party comments on third party websites. According to the Court of Appeal Google is, however, responsible for personal data in both the instant search results and in all posts in the current discussion thread on Flashback, which is considered as a whole.

When balancing the interests regarding personal integrity, the interest of the registered person of a protected private sphere is weighed against other opposing interests. Among other things, because of the fact that the complainant did not have an unlimited role in the mentioned housing project, that he is still active in the real estate industry and his role in public life, there is still a public interest in being able to take part in the discussion on Flashback regarding the housing project. Thus, Google's processing of personal data does not constitute a violation of the complainant's personal integrity, and the complainant is therefore not entitled to damages.

// Rebecca Fassihi