Google refuses French global 'right to be forgotten' request

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3 min

US Internet giant Google is refusing to bow to an order from the French privacy watchdog to delete search results worldwide when users invoke their “right to be forgotten” online, the company said on Thursday, exposing itself to possible fines.


The French data protection authority, the CNIL (Commission nationale de l'informatique et des libertés), ordered the search engine firm in June to de-list, upon request, search results appearing under a person’s name from all of its websites, including the international version

June’s ruling stemmed from a decision in May last year by the European Court of Justice that European residents could ask search engines – such as Google, Yahoo! or Microsoft Corp’s Bing – to delete results that are out of date, irrelevant or inflammatory under the so-called right to be forgotten.

Google complied with the ruling and has since received more than a quarter of a million removal requests, according to its transparency report. It has accepted about 41 percent of them.

However, Google limited the removals to its European websites, such as in Britain or in France, arguing that more than 95% of searches made from Europe are done through those local sites.

In a blog post on Thursday, the US company said it believed no one country should have the authority to control what content someone in a second country can access.

“We’ve worked hard to implement the right to be forgotten ruling thoughtfully and comprehensively in Europe, and we’ll continue to do so,” wrote Peter Fleischer, Google’s global privacy counsel. “But as a matter of principle, therefore, we respectfully disagree with the CNIL’s assertion of global authority on this issue and we have asked the CNIL to withdraw its formal notice.”

'Global agreement needed'

The CNIL had said the company could face fines – although these would be small in comparison to Google’s annual turnover – if it refused to comply with the order.

Google warned that applying the right to be forgotten globally would trigger a “race to the bottom” where “the Internet would only be as free as the world’s least free place”.

Its stance was upheld in February by a group of experts appointed by the company to guide it on how to apply the landmark ruling.

“Global de-listing remains too controversial without an international agreement,” said Luciano Floridi, a professor at Oxford University who was on the panel advising Google.

However, European regulators and some legal experts think Google ought to apply the ruling globally, as it is too easy to circumvent it by switching from one version of Google to another.


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