Google to France: Knock it Off With the 'Right to Be Forgotten' Demands

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Google really doesn't want to expand its Right to be Forgotten program beyond Europe. The company on Thursday appealed an order from French data protection authority CNIL to remove certain search results globally.

"As a matter of both law and principle, we disagree with this demand," Kent Walker, Google senior vice president and general counsel, wrote in an op-ed published on the company blog and in France's Le Monde newspaper.

The right to be forgotten—or, as Walker calls it, "a right to be delisted from search results"—was created in a 2014 ruling by the Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU). It requires that, if requested, search engines like Google and Microsoft Bing must consider removing links to specific information in its results—"even when those links point to truthful and lawfully published information like newspaper articles or official government websites," Walker said.

Google complied, scrubbing results only on European sites—Google.de in Germany or Google.fr in France, for example. So anyone in those countries could go to Google.com to find the delisted results. In February, the company reluctantly changed that, and delisted links on all domains, including Google.com, when viewed in the country from which the request came. Anyone outside the EU, meanwhile, can still see the link on non-European domains.

The CNIL's latest order, filed in March, pushes Google even further by demanding it apply French law to global sites. That is, removing links to content that may be legal locally from Australia to Zambia, and everywhere in between.

"This order could lead to a global race to the bottom, harming access to information that is perfectly lawful to view in one's own country," Walker said. "We have received demands from governments to remove content globally on various grounds—and we have resisted, even if that has sometimes led to the blocking of our services."

Across Europe, Google has reviewed nearly 1.5 million webpages, delisting about 40 percent; France alone accounts for 300,000-plus sites, half of which have been expunged.

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