Google has reportedly filed an appeal with French high court Conseil d’État over demands that the company expand its “right to be forgotten” efforts.
The “right to be forgotten” is a subject that Google has had to deal with for the past two years since the European Court of Justice ruled that Europeans can request that Google and other search engines remove content from their search results when such content makes them look bad. To some, this represents a way for citizens to have more control about what people can find about them online — a form of enforcing privacy. On the other hand, critics see the “right to be forgotten” concept and ruling as a form of censorship with dangerous ramifications.
In all the time that Google has been dealing with this, John Oliver perhaps gave the best explanation on Last Week Tonight in 2014. For a basic (and entertaining) explainer, watch the video below.
Google has battled with courts and with those requesting content removals ever since. In May 2014, Google released its tool that enables people to exercise their “right to be forgotten.” The tool let them make requests for content removal. According to TechCrunch, the company immediately received over 12,000 “right to be forgotten” requests. Shortly thereafter, they were averaging about 10,000 requests per day.
A couple of months later, Google started alerting webmasters about their content when the subject of “right to be forgotten” requests came up. Messages began appearing in Webmaster Tools (which has since been renamed to Google Search Console).
Before embarking on something of a “right to be forgotten” tour, in which the company would meet with a variety of experts to discuss how to properly implement the “right to be forgotten,” Google said in July 2014 (via the Wall Street Journal) that it had received requests from 91,000 people to remove 328,000 URLs just through July 18. Approximately 17,500 requests came from France, while 16,500 came from Germany, and 12,000 came from the United Kingdom. At that point, Google had removed 50 percent of URLs requested and rejected 30 percent of requests. Others were under review and/or seeking additional information. By October of that year, Google said in its Transparency Report it had evaluated 497,695 URLs for removal.
This past November, the Verge reported that Google had received 348,085 “right to be forgotten” requests to remove a total of 1,234,092 URLs. Google removed 42 percent of these.
Initially, the “right to be forgotten” ruling meant that Google would remove the content in question from applicable European versions of its search engine, but it didn’t take long for Google to receive government pressure to apply any removals on a worldwide basis. The main reason for this is that people even in the European countries where the requests originated would still be able to access content via other regional versions of Google’s search engine, such as Google.com. Google has been resistant to this, as it would censor information from people outside of Europe. United States citizens, for example, would be blocked from existing content because of a “right to be forgotten” law that wouldn’t otherwise apply to them.
Last year, French data protection authority CNIL ordered Google to extend the “right to be forgotten” globally or face fines. Google rejected this. In March, CNIL fined Google €100,000.
Now, Google has appealed claiming the outcome will have a broader impact than just what happens with France. The Wall Street Journal provides a quote from Google parent Alphabet’s legal department.
“‘This isn’t about just France. This is about a risk to the way the Internet is governed globally,’ said Dave Price, a Google lawyer who oversees legal issues involving its search engine. ‘Other countries could demand global removals based on their idea of what the law should be around the world.’”
On the Google Europe Policy blog, Kent Walker, Google’s global general counsel, discussed the appeal.
“As a matter of both law and principle, we disagree with this demand. We comply with the laws of the countries in which we operate. But if French law applies globally, how long will it be until other countries – perhaps less open and democratic – start demanding that their laws regulating information likewise have global reach? 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. For example, this could prevent French citizens from seeing content that is perfectly legal in France. This is not just a hypothetical concern. 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.”
CNIL hasn’t commented on Thursday’s “right to be forgotten” appeal.
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