The continuing saga of Google and the right to be forgotten

Two interesting developments in the “right to be forgotten” space, which conversely serve to show how ridiculous the demands from Google (and, to be fair, other search engines but none come close to Google’s search market share in Europe and the US) are and how necessary they could be. The debate also serves to strengthen the argument that if something is not on Google, it doesn’t exist.

First, the complications in Europe arising from the right to be forgotten ruling of a year ago. One one hand, the European commision monitoring Google’s implementation of the right to be forgotten ruling, Article 29 Working Party, is pleased with the decisions Google has made so far. TechCrunch reported that out of 272,000 requests that Google has received so far, only 2,000 complaints/appeals have reached the committee. The committee also said that in most of the appealed cases “the search engine’s decision to refuse a delisting request is justified by the fact that the information is directly related to the professional activity of the individual, or that it is pertinent in regard to current events or to purpose of the processing.” So, despite these requests being extremely subjective and personal, Google seems to have put together a set of criteria that seems to please the Europeans.

France: standing up for privacy

France: standing up for privacy

So far so good. But the French have decided that as good as these removals are, they need to take place not only on Google’s European domains but on every Google domain. The Wall Street Journal reported: “France’s Commission Nationale de l’Informatique et des Libertés, or CNIL, said Friday that it issued a formal order to Google to begin applying right to be forgotten removals it is processing to “all domain names” of the search engine globally, including Google.com, not just those that are aimed at Europe, such as google.fr. “For delisting to be effective, it must be world-wide,” said Isabelle Falque-Pierrotin, the head of the CNIL. “It is a question of principle. Google must respect the rights of European citizens.” Google, on the other hand, believes that European rulings apply only in Europe. When the right to be forgotten ruling was made last year, Google said it would “only remove links from the European versions of Google’s search engine, such as google.es, or google.de, not from google.com. The reason: They say doing so could create the precedent that one region can set global rules for the Internet.” In effect, Ms Falque-Pierrotin is saying that since Google operates in France, it must operate according to French law not only in France but globally. To say that such statements by countries trying to apply their local laws globally could be complicated is an understatement. Even in democratic countries with different privacy laws the differences are causing legal strife, so what will happen when totalitarian governments dictate what results Google can say? When foreign governments start affecting search results in the US, will American legislators step in?

In a move a bit contradictory to the debate above, Google announced its decision to remove revenge porn images from search results. On their public policy blog Amit Singhal, SVP of Google Search, stated Google’s long-held philosophy that organic search results are sacred: “Our philosophy has always been that Search should reflect the whole web.” Yet Mr Singhal adds: “But revenge porn images are intensely personal and emotionally damaging, and serve only to degrade the victims—predominantly women. So going forward, we’ll honor requests from people to remove nude or sexually explicit images shared without their consent from Google Search results.” Finally, something all countries and committees can agree on.

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