Google Fined Record 600,000 Euros By Belgian Authority

Alphabet Inc.’s (GOOGL) Google has been fined by Belgium’s data protection authority for a record 600,000 euros ($682,150).

According to an emailed statement to Bloomberg on July 14, the Belgian Authority said that Google was “grossly negligent” by refusing to remove links to news articles more than 10 years ago.

According to the regulator, it is the largest fine they’ve ever issued. The move reportedly came at the instigation of someone who “plays a role in Belgian public life.” The person repeatedly made requests to Google to remove the links to the article that reported a harassment complaint about the figure. Google did not acquiesce to the party’s demands. The Belgian department said that the results of Google’s decision was tantamount to “political labeling.”

The news comes after Google won a landmark case in September of last year against French authority (CNIL) after battling numerous European privacy regulators in Europe. 

The European Court of Justice said on September 24, 2019, “Currently, there is no obligation under EU law, for a search engine operator who grants a request for de-referencing made by a data subject to carry out such a de-referencing on all the versions of its search engine.”

The results for all intents in purposes overturned a previous EU ruling referred to as “the right to be forgotten.” This law ensures a European citizen the right to request the removal of links to pages containing personal information. The ruling is relative to any EU country that hosts the web pages. 

Between May 2014 and September 2019, Google reported that they had received 845,000 requests to remove a total of 3.3 million web addresses of which 45% of the links were delisted.

On March 28, France’s top administrative court canceled a fine of €100,000 ($114,017), conceding that national law doesn’t allow the country’s privacy authority, CNIL, to order results to be removed globally and can only demand search results be stripped within Europe.

With the limitations of the law being relative to EU jurisdiction, web pages hosted outside of its territories, are free to remain online irrespective of a person’s request for removal. It is not clear if Belgium’s case against Google involved a website that was hosted in EU territory, however, Google intends to appeal the case.

In an email to Bloomberg on July 14, Google stated, “We didn’t believe this case met the European Court of Justice’s criteria for delisting published journalism from search — we thought it was in the public’s interest that this reporting remain searchable.”

Nonetheless analysts remain bullish on the stock. Mizuho Securities analyst James Lee reiterated a Buy rating on Alphabet on July 13 citing Google Cloud’s platform as being an attractive option for retailers because Amazon’s large online retail reach represents their primary competition. The analyst raised a price target from $1,560 to $1,650 which implies 10% upside potential.

Google’s stock is up 12% year-to-date with a Strong Buy analyst consensus that breaks down into 28 Buy ratings versus 1 Hold ratings and no Sell rating. The $1,566.04 average price target suggests 4% upside potential for the shares in the coming 12 months. (See Google’s stock analysis on TipRanks).

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