Google said “non.”
In a blog post, Global Privacy Counsel Peter Fleischer explained why Google wouldn’t comply with the French data protection watchdog demands. The CNIL wanted the American company to widen its implementation of the so-called European ‘right to be forgotten.’ In its current implementation, Google only delists results from the Google.fr and other European TLDs, and the CNIL wants global delistings.
TechCrunch’s Natasha Lomas has been thoroughly covering the right to be forgotten, but I’ll do a quick recap. In May 2014, a European ruling stated that search engines had to process requests from individuals wanting outdated, inaccurate or irrelevant information delisted from a search result for their name.
Google complied with the ruling, sort of. Instead of delisting search results from all versions of Google’s results, the company only delisted these requests from European Union TLDs, such as Google.fr, Google.de, etc.
European regulators started noticing Google’s trick and asked for larger delistings. Google argued that only a tiny percentage of searches happen on non-local Google versions and ignored the request.
But France’s CNIL issued a formal request in June, giving Google 15 days to comply. Otherwise, the company should expect sanctions. Fifteen days later, no word from Google.
The reason why the CNIL hadn’t heard back from Google is because the company doesn’t plan to comply with the request. Once again, Google is reiterating that French users are automatically redirected to Google.fr so there is no need to remove search results from other TLDs.
It is also using a new strategy this time, saying that complying with the CNIL would set a bad precedent. “Moreover, 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,'” Fleischer wrote.
First, comparing the right to be forgotten to banning what the Russian Government considers as ‘gay propaganda’ is excessive. Second, the CNIL’s request is legitimate as there are millions of French people living and traveling abroad.
“We have taken note of Google’s arguments which are partly of a political nature. The CNIL, on the other hand, has relied on a strictly legal reasoning,” the CNIL told Reuters.
Yet, not complying is smart on Google’s part. The company is well aware that the CNIL can’t do much. At most, the CNIL can fine Google $164,000 (€150,000). The company recently reported $3.93 billion in profit for Q2 2015. In other words, Google doesn’t really feel threatened.
Correction: An earlier version of this post incorrectly stated that Google only removes results from the requester’s TLD (e.g. Google.fr for French requests). Google removes these results from all European TLDs.