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A few commercial news highlights from September, including a court ruling on the extent of the 'right to be forgotten', a warning about the use of email signatures, and new right to repair rules.

 

ECJ ruling: the right to be forgotten does not extend beyond the EU

In a landmark ruling, the European Court of Justice recently ruled that Google does not have to apply the right to be forgotten globally.

The right to be forgotten is now enshrined in the General Data Protection Regulation. It enables individuals to request that a data controller deletes or stops processing personal data relating to that individual.

In a disagreement with the French privacy regulatory, Google, which has a wide variety of country-specific websites, had argued that it only needed to apply the right to be forgotten on EU country websites, and not its other domains, such as google.com.

Google implements a geoblocking feature, preventing European users from being able to see entries that have been removed due to a request from an individual. However, users outside of Europe, or those using a virtual IP or other measures to circumvent the geoblocking, would still be able to see the relevant search entries.

The ECJ ruled that “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 versions of its search engine.”

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.

Although the ruling itself specifically relates to search engines, it provides valuable insight to the scope and extent of the EU’s data protection laws and the requirement to enforce data subject rights.

 

Email signatures can be legally binding

Back in the UK, the High Court has ruled that an email, sent by a lawyer on behalf of a property seller, was legally binding as it included the lawyer’s automated signature (name, job title and contact details).

In his email, the lawyer had set out the terms of the sale, including a price that was £25,000 lower than the actual asking price. The buyer accepted the terms put forward.

The lawyer argued that the terms had not been finalised, and no binding contract had been formed, because the paperwork hadn’t been officially signed. However, the judge ruled that the auto-signature at the bottom of the email served as his signature, which was enough to create a binding contract on behalf of the seller.

Whilst electronic signatures are becoming increasingly common and have been accepted as legally binding, this decision is significant as it relates to an auto-generated email signature.

The lesson is clear - be careful about what you are sending and what you put your name to; simple declarations like “subject to contract”, whilst not iron-clad, can be important tools in avoiding any suggestion that you’re making a legally binding commitment via email.

 

Right to repair rules coming into force

The European Commission has approved 'right to repair' regulations in relation to household appliances.

The new rules, which will come into force from 2021, introduce design measures for products such as refrigerators, washing machines, dishwashers and televisions. Manufacturers of those products will be legally required to make them longer-lasting and maintain a supply of spare parts for up to 10 years.

The parts will be made available to professional repairers and must be capable of being used with common tools and without damaging the product.

The EU says that the new measures are designed to improve the usability of common appliances, in response to frequent complaints that products break down shortly after the manufacturer warranty expires, leaving consumers with no choice but to buy a replacement. It also says that the measures will help reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

Whilst the new rules will not necessarily apply directly to the UK given the ongoing Brexit process, they will apply to any British manufacturers that want to sell into the EU.

 

If you would like advice on these or any other GDPR issues, please do not hesitate to get in touch with us on +44 (0) 117 928 1910 or email carl.spencer@roxburghmilkins.com