Google, once a global bastion against censorship, is having a pretty tough time of it these days. From being forced to comply with Right To Be Forgotten legislation in the EU to pressure from numerous industries to censor results which may violate copyright, Google’s defenses against censorship are crumbling. Even Google themselves — arguably in a very positive move — is taking steps to censor their own results when it comes to “revenge porn” and hacking victims, as previously reported by the Inquisitr.
Now, according to a report from MarketingLand, French privacy regulator CNIL is trying to force Google to (somehow) identify French citizens no matter where they are in the world and implement Right To Be Forgotten for them, censoring search results that would normally only be censored on the local version of Google. Not only is this essentially a technical impossibility, CNIL gave Google two weeks to pull it off, one of which is already gone. It’s unclear what penalties Google will face if they fail to meet CNIL’s demands, but it’s very likely we will be finding out.
As Fortune notes, although censorship on Google isn’t really anything new, other courts than France are starting to force them to make it global — something that Google has to choose whether to acknowledge in every case, with consequences either way. Technically, in most cases, they can refuse, but pushing back too much will bring consequences with it — just as it did when Google refused to censor search results in China in 2010, a decision which has had repercussions for the search giant to this day.
Most recently, a Canadian court attempting to resolve a trademark dispute between two companies issued an order to Google to purge certain links in their global search results, rather than the Canadian-specific page — an order that was recently upheld by an appeals court. As Canadian law professor and blogger Michael Geist notes, this decision could have staggering implications for Google.
“The implications are enormous since if a Canadian court has the power to limit access to information for the globe, presumably other courts would as well. While the court does not grapple with this possibility, what happens if a Russian court orders Google to remove gay and lesbian sites from its database? Or if Iran orders it remove Israeli sites from the database? The possibilities are endless since local rules of freedom of expression often differ from country to country.”
Long-time Google authority Danny Sullivan, of MarketingLand, notes that the implications of this decision stretch even further — specifically, that if certain courts are able to force Google to censor their results globally, they may become “censorship tourism” destinations: courts which would uphold a censorship order that plaintiffs are unable to obtain in their home jurisdictions.
Google has made almost no comment on how they plan to handle the global censorship orders, aside to note that they are “reviewing the decision.” They have some tough choices ahead. However the largest search engine in the world chooses to react to global censorship demands may very well shape the course of history.
[Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images]