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Google Fights France To Prevent Globalization Of The Right-to-Be-Forgotten


Google has formally appealed France’s data protection authority’s order that Google apply Right-to-Be-Forgotten (RTBF) removals to its global index. The Commission Nationale de l’informatique et des Libertés (CNIL) had protested Google’s Europe-only removal policy and threatened to fine the company €150,000 ($169,000) for failing to apply the rule on a worldwide basis.

Previously Google said that it would limit RTBF to European users:

We’ve been working hard to strike the right balance in implementing the European Court’s ruling, co-operating closely with data protection authorities. The ruling focused on services directed to European users, and that’s the approach we are taking in complying with it.

The company simultaneously made it more difficult for Europeans to get to Google.com.

French and other European privacy regulators have taken the position that RTBF is undermined by the retention of content in the Google.com index. And the CNIL issued an order and ultimatum to Google accordingly.

Google is now appealing that order in French court. On different legal grounds (trademark), Canada is also attempting to get Google to surpress results on a global basis.

About the French case, Google’s Global Privacy Council Peter Fleischer said in a blog post:

We’ve worked hard to implement the right to be forgotten ruling thoughtfully and comprehensively in Europe, and we’ll continue to do so. But as a matter of principle, we respectfully disagree with the idea that a national data protection authority can assert global authority to control the content that people can access around the world . . .

We believe that no one country should have the authority to control what content someone in a second country can access. We also believe this order is disproportionate and unnecessary, given that the overwhelming majority of French internet users—currently around 97%—access a European version of Google’s search engine like google.fr, rather than Google.com or any other version of Google.

Google is correct to appeal the CNIL order and to fight the ability of one country to impose its worldview on others globally. To comply would be to open the door to other countries’ efforts to attempt to remake the internet according to their own biases and cultural standards. For example, the Chinese might seek to compel any critical information be censored globally (e.g., Tienanmen Square). India might try to block content it saw as “offensive” or “objectionable” in accordance with its own legal standards.

Fleischer offers several worrisome examples from other countries:

Moreover, there are innumerable examples around the world where content that is declared illegal under the laws of one country, would be deemed legal in others: Thailand criminalizes some speech that is critical of its King, Turkey criminalizes some speech that is critical of Ataturk, and Russia outlaws some speech that is deemed to be “gay propaganda.”

Whose perspective is right? What values should prevail? While the French argue (partly correctly) that RTBF can be circumvented by determined individuals, the larger principle at stake dictates that Google not comply with the country’s global takedown demand.

Opinions expressed in this article are those of the guest author and not necessarily Search Engine Land. Staff authors are listed here.

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