BRUSSELS: Online publishers and brands are considering the implications of a ruling by the European Court of Justice that requires internet giant Google to amend some search results if requested by individuals.

While the particular case referred to a Spanish doctor's wish to have removed a link to a newspaper report from 16 years ago that outlined his debt problems, the effects are likely to be far reaching as the ruling effectively brings search engines within the confines of European data protection laws rather than treating them as neutral intermediaries.

Most obviously, search engines could be swamped by European citizens demanding the removal of links to personal data deemed to be "inadequate, irrelevant or no longer relevant".

The Financial Times noted, however, that the ruling could also apply to searches on social media and include the deletion of links to bad reviews.

James Thomlinson, partner and managing director at international PR agency Bell Pottinger Wired, told Marketing the ruling created a messy situation for the entire communications industry.

"The lack of clarity from the ECJ on relevancy of results and whether or not this ruling applies to individuals in companies -- or even an entire brand's reputation -- will have lawyers up and down the country rubbing their hands in glee," he said.

Marketing Week suggested the ruling was "another step towards the greater anonymisation of online data" and said brands would have to look at adapting their targeting models.

Imminent new EU data protection legislation could also mean marketers will soon have to ask consumers to opt in to their data being used for marketing purposes. Currently they have to opt out, something they are far less likely to do.

As their options for remaining anonymous grow, Marketing Week said it made sense for marketers to "future-proof" themselves against this trend.

Data sourced from Financial Times, Marketing, Marketing Week; additional content by Warc staff