Google spokesman Al Verney said Tuesday's ruling was "disappointing... for search engines and online publishers in general," and that the company will "now need to take time to analyze the implications."
The landmark decision was made by The Court of Justice of the European Union; it could mean people could have some say over the results yielded when their own name is used as a search word.
The court said people "may address such a request directly to the operator of the search engine... which must then duly examine its merits."
In addition, it said search engines must weigh "the legitimate interest of Internet users potentially interested in having access to that information" against the right to privacy and protection of personal data.
However, Google's Verney noted that the ruling differed "dramatically" from the advice of the court's own top adviser.
"We are very surprised that it differs so dramatically from the Advocate General's opinion and the warnings and consequences that he spelled out," he said.
The ruling rejected the argument from Google's legal team that the search engine was offering links to information already available.
The advisory judgment stems from a lawsuit against Google that could affect all search engines, including Yahoo and Microsoft's Bing.
The court upheld the complaint of a Spanish man, named by news agencies as Mario Costeja, who objected to the fact that Google searches on his name revealed links to an old newspaper article about the repossession of his home.
Costeja argued that the debt had long been settled and he sued to have the reference removed.
This case is expected be sent back to Spanish courts for further review, however, Europe's decision could be a strong indication that similar requests would be granted in the future.
The case has pitched advocates of freedom of information against supporters of privacy rights who say people should have the "right to be forgotten" in cyberspace and that the individual should have the powers to remove themselves from the Internet.
lw/msh (AP, Reuters)