Google Asks France Not to Require Global Right To Be Forgotten

Search giant says French data agency order goes too far

Illustration: iStockphoto
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Google has asked France’s data protection agency, CNIL, to retract an order to apply French right-to-be-forgotten rulings to all Google search results. Since a European court ruling last spring, Google has handled right-to-be-forgotten requests only in country-specific versions of it’s search results (see IEEE Spectrum’s story, “Google’s Year of Forgetting”). In a blog post last week, Google’s Global Privacy Counsel, Peter Fleischer, wrote that the company’s representatives had asked CNIL “to withdraw” the June order.

European Union residents unhappy with search results for their name can ask search engine providers to remove links from the results by making the case that the links infringe on their privacy and the information is not in the public interest. A web slip-up by Google revealed last month that 95 percent of the requests so far have been by private citizens, not politicians and criminals, The Guardian reports. If the provider doesn’t grant such a request (almost 60 percent of the time for Google, which handles over nine in ten web searches in Europe), individuals can appeal to their country’s data protection authority for a definitive decision.

Yet last year’s court ruling only confirmed that national data protection agencies have the authority to rule in such cases. It did not specify the scope of such decisions. A comment in a February 2015 report by Google’s privacy advisory council hinted at the present conflict. Council member and German federal justice minister Sabine Leutheusser-Schnarrenberger wrote: “Since EU residents are able to research globally, the EU is authorized to decide that the search engine has to delete all the links globally.”

That, Fleischmann wrote last week, could set a troubling precedent. He wrote, “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.’ ”

A CNIL representative said it would make a decision on Google’s request in two months, reports the BBC.

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