The ruling which stems from a dispute between Google and a French privacy regulator means the firm only needs to remove links from its search results in Europe and not elsewhere after receiving an appropriate request.
In 2015, CNIL ordered the firm to globally remove search result listings to pages containing damaging or false information about a person and the following year, Google introduced a geoblocking feature that prevents European users from being able to see delisted links.
But it resisted censoring search results for people in other parts of the world. And the firm challenged a 100,000 ($109,901; £88,376) euro fine that CNIL had tried to impose.
“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 European top court ruling said.
Google had argued that the obligation could be abused by authoritarian governments trying to cover up human rights abuses were it to be applied outside of Europe.
The tech firm had been supported by Microsoft, Wikipedia’s owner the Wikimedia Foundation, the non-profit Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, and the UK freedom of expression campaign group Article 19, among others.
The court also issued a related second ruling, which said that links do not automatically have to be removed just because they contain information about a person’s sex life or a criminal conviction.
Instead, it ruled that such listings could be kept where “strictly necessary” for people’s freedom of information rights to be preserved. However, it indicated a high threshold should be applied and that such results should fall down search result listings over time.
“The obligation to demote search results in some cases is particularly interesting as an example of the courts directly interfering with the algorithms used by big tech companies,” commented Peter Church from the law firm Linklaters.