French Regulating Body Says Google Must Honor Right To Be Forgotten Across All Of Its Domains

from the CNIL:-WE-ARE-THE-WORLD dept

France’s privacy regulator thinks it should be able to control what the world sees in Google’s search results. Back in June, the regulator said Google must apply the “right to be forgotten” ruling across all of its domains, not just Google.fr, etc.

Google rightly responded, “Go fuck forget yourself” (but in appeal form), as Jennifer Baker of The Register reports.

Google had argued that around 97 per cent of French users use Google.fr rather than Google.com, that CNIL was trying to apply French law extra-territorially and that applying the RTBF on its global domains would impede the public’s right to information and would be a form of censorship.

But France seems intent on standing up for the 3%. The regulating body has rejected Google’s appeal and declared its intent on bending the world to its interpretation of the RTBF ruling. As it sees it, what’s good for France is good for the rest of the connected world. And since all roads lead through Google, a deletion honored at Google.fr must also be delisted at Google.com

From the ruling:

Geographical extensions are only paths giving access to the processing operation. Once delisting is accepted by the search engine, it must be implemented on all extensions, in accordance with the judgment of the ECJ.

If this right was limited to some extensions, it could be easily circumvented: in order to find the delisted result, it would be sufficient to search on another extension (e.g. searching in France using google.com) , namely to use another form of access to the processing. This would equate stripping away the efficiency of this right, and applying variable rights to individuals depending on the internet user who queries the search engine and not on the data subject.

In any case, the right to delisting never leads to deletion of the information on the internet; it merely prevents some results to be displayed following a search made on the sole basis of a person’s name. Thus, the information remains directly accessible on the source website or through a search using other terms. For instance, it is impossible to delist an event.

Yes, delisting at one domain means it’s still accessible at others. That’s the way these things are supposed to work. Perhaps the government bodies involved in this decision might have considered the unintended side effects before deciding RTBF was a great idea with minimal flaws.

The general tone of the regulator’s response is that Google is being deliberately obtuse when it claims compliance at Google.fr (for example) is following the letter of the law. The French governing body wants Google to follow the spirit of the law, which means basically anticipating various governments’ next moves after another hole in their “forget me now” plan presents itself.

CNIL then makes this disingenuous statements about its decision.

Finally, contrary to what Google has stated, this decision does not show any willingness on the part of the CNIL to apply French law extraterritorially. It simply requests full observance of European legislation by non European players offering their services in Europe.

If this is what it’s actually requesting, complying at French domains would be all that was required of Google. But it isn’t. It’s asking for “full observance” and then leaving it up to Google to comply with requests in countries where the Right to Be Forgotten isn’t recognized as an actual “right.”

Those behind the push for a right to be forgotten should have seen this coming. They also should have recognized the limits of their desires. Pushing Google to delist any RTBF request across all domains allows Europe to decide what can and can’t be seen (at least through Google’s search engine) by the rest of the world. And yet, the regulating body calling for this ridiculous “solution” has the gall to claim it’s not actually applying its decision extra-territorially, but that Google’s global reach somehow obliges it to do this “voluntarily,” if only to maintain the consistency regulators had in mind when they started enforcing the “right to be forgotten.”

The deflectionary reminder that the content isn’t actually deleted from the web is a cheap dodge. What’s never acknowledged in these rulings is that removing links from search engine results is pretty much the same thing as removing it from the original websites. If search engines can’t “find” it, it ceases to exist for all intents and purposes. Giving people the power to selectively edit the web without even acquiring a court order was — and is — a bad idea. The EU continues to assert the general public has the right to rewrite their own history, and now, with decisions like these, it’s forcing the rest of the world to play along with these edited narratives.

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Comments on “French Regulating Body Says Google Must Honor Right To Be Forgotten Across All Of Its Domains”

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107 Comments
Anonymous Coward says:

It simply requests full observance of European legislation by non European players offering their services in Europe.

So when the US uses the third party doctrine to insist that Microsoft 365 documents, emails etc. are passed to the NSA unencrypted, France cannot complain that this includes documents created by its citizens.

Bergman (profile) says:

Re: Re:

Holocaust denial is a crime in France. But it’s protected speech in the United States.

If the French viewpoint on the right to be forgotten is accurate, that a court can order something globally even if such a thing violates the laws of another nation, then someone ought to sue Google.fr to stop them from complying with French laws that violate the US Constitution.

Whatever (profile) says:

Google is doing it wrong...

This is a case where Google is truly missing the concept, and as a result, the French courts are (wrongly in my opinion) going to make them pay for it.

All Google needs to do is geo force all french people to google.fr. If they try to access any other Google site (including google.com) they should be sent back to google.fr.

The issue for Google is that you can access almost any of their regional sites from anywhere – and that means that yes, there are Google results available in France which are not compliant with the (stupid, but apparently legal) law.

Google is making a real mess of this one.

That One Guy (profile) says:

Re: Google is doing it wrong...

Wouldn’t work. The court doesn’t want the info de-listed just in france, it wants it de-listed globally.

Either that or they’re freaking out about the 3% of french users who don’t use google.fr, which while possible, I personally think is less likely than wanting global de-listing, meaning they’re most likely just using the 3% as an excuse, and would find another if google did geo-restrict their services.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re: Google is doing it wrong...

Like I said someone should start a business, outside of the any right to be forgotten jurisdiction, intent on allowing for searches of only those that have requested to be forgotten. It can also have a directory (if the list is small enough) to make it easier to just see a list of everyone that’s been forgotten. Or at least a recent directory of those that have been most recently added to the list.

Those that would like info on anyone that may have requested to be forgotten can simply search that site. For international companies that may have the site blocked in their area they can get info from computers in other countries. This also serves the purpose of highlighting those that wish to use this right to be forgotten privilege by creating a search engine that removes the distractions of all other content.

Whatever (profile) says:

Re: Re: Google is doing it wrong...

I think you miss the point. If someone wants to obtain something, they can and will. Legally, Google should make the good faith effort to restrict residence of France to using the filtered google.fr site, and make every normal effort to keep them away from other, non .FR versions of Google. It would not be perfect, but it would create a situation where the French courts would have to find Google liable for people using VPNs and proxies, which is beyond their control.

Moreover, Google France should be it’s own stand alone company, and Alphabet does not fall under the French courts jurisdiction. If they want to enforce their order, they can come to the US and file suit – and good luck getting past that pesky first amendment issue.

Google is just doing it all wrong by basically capitulating and not taking clear steps to isolate France from the rest of their system.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re: Google is doing it wrong...

Legally, Google should make the good faith effort to restrict residence of France to using the filtered google.fr site, and make every normal effort to keep them away from other, non .FR versions of Google.

This IS what Google’s doing.

It would not be perfect, but it would create a situation where the French courts would have to find Google liable for people using VPNs and proxies, which is beyond their control.

This IS what the French courts are trying to do.

This IS what Google’s doing

nasch (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Google is doing it wrong...

Legally, Google should make the good faith effort to restrict residence of France to using the filtered google.fr site, and make every normal effort to keep them away from other, non .FR versions of Google.

Why? Does French law state they must do this in order to operate in France?

MrTroy (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Google is doing it wrong...

My reading of the article is similar:

Geographical extensions are only paths giving access to the processing operation. Once delisting is accepted by the search engine, it must be implemented on all extensions, in accordance with the judgment of the ECJ.

Not that all extensions should redirect to google.co.fr, but that all extensions should act as-if they were google.co.fr if accessed from a french origin.

Personally, I think mandating that all french original redirect to .co.fr is less legally messy while achieving the same end… though I suspect that end is sending 97% of that 3% to VPNs or TOR.

I do agree with Whatever that Google shouldn’t be arguing that this is technically infeasible or that it’s extra-judicial. The law really is stupid and makes almost no sense, but those seem to be losing arguments. I do wonder what the response would be if Google were to present an accounting of what it would cost to make the tech change so all domains operate as-if .co.fr if accessed from a French source, and compared that to their income from all French sources… also to the number of people they hire in France, their total French outgoings and tax paid – see who has the most to lose if Google pulls out of France, before and after this ruling.

tqk (profile) says:

Re: Google is doing it wrong...

The issue for Google is that you can access almost any of their regional sites from anywhere – and that means that yes, there are Google results available in France which are not compliant with the (stupid, but apparently legal) law.

You’ve got it completely backward. This is an issue for France, not Google. It’s their stupid law they’re trying to get Google to enforce when it’s ridiculous. All it takes to get past anything Google does is a VPN, so why rag on Google for being incapable of doing the impossible?

You’re a fool to blame Google for this unfunny joke.

Machin Shin (profile) says:

Sometimes I wonder why Google doesn’t just respond to these things in more fun ways.

Like hey, why not box up everything they own in France and ship it to another country. Then offer to move all their employees to their new sites in the other locations. They take the free move or they start job hunting.

I think that would be a nice wake up call to these governments. Loosing access to Google, loosing lot of jobs, AND loosing a lot of highly skilled workers.

That One Guy (profile) says:

'No results found.'

I think at this point someone from some other country needs to claim that all mention of France needs to be removed from the internet in their country, and since only having it apply within a single country defeats the attempt to re-write history, clearly it needs to happen on a global scale. See how well they take it when all mention of their country just disappears from the internet.

Allowing any country/government to dictate what is and is not allowed to show up globally will result in the most repressive ones, whether socially, religiously or otherwise being able to veto anything they don’t like, and the internet would be torn to pieces in the process, with only the most bland and useless content surviving the censoring.

Or put simply, unless the french government is okay with other governments deciding what they get to see and have access to, they don’t get to dictate what everyone else gets to see and have access to.

JF (profile) says:

Re: Fuck France

The irony is they can’t turn off France anymore than they can id the location of who is making the search requests. If someone in France can get online then they can get to Google. So the only way to “turn off” France is to physically disconnect them. Unless you define turn off as pull all personnel and resources out of France so even if they fine/seize/try to arrest someone there is nothing there.

That Anonymous Coward (profile) says:

Here is the first problem…
“Once delisting is accepted by the search engine”

Perhaps they should tell them to get stuffed.
This silly law is stupid, it is nothing more than trying to appease people who neurotically Google themselves trying to have total control over their image. While they’ve managed to get Google to hide the information, it is still out there and people running background checks will find it. The internet never forgets, and Google is not the fing Internet.

Are things for fing wonderful in France that supressing search engine results is the final step to the utopian nation of France? Or is this them distracting a populace they has a history of rising up and beheading their leadership when things are extra shitty?

Google should walk away, blackhole all of France and call it a damn day. No matter how many times the regulators have butted in on any issue, it never solves anything and a majority of the time what they are pushing for damages the people demanding it. Imagine a nation that no search engine will service, how long before the people will demand to know why and then have to accept that you can’t white wash your history… you need to accept it and move forward.

eaving (profile) says:

Flat out Google needs to simply turn off functions to France for a few days, with a nice little 404 explaining why and which politicians are responsible. The polis feel entitled up against google, lets see how they feel when a few million angry citizens contact them. If they cave this will come up again elsewhere. Show that they are not going to allow countries to apply extra territorial laws somewhere big enough to notice but small enough not to be missed.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

It’s a whole lot more work/expensive to remove it from many many individual websites than to remove it from a central search engine. A website might also be out of the jurisdiction of the country.

But I agree that this whole privilege to be forgotten thing is retarded. Like I said someone should simply start a search engine that only focuses on those wishing to be forgotten and base it out of the jurisdiction of a privilege to be forgotten country.

jilocasin (profile) says:

France wants its borders back.

“Finally, contrary to what Google has stated, this decision does not show any willingness on the part of the CNIL to apply French law extraterritorially [emphasis mine]. It simply requests full observance of European legislation by non European players offering their services in Europe.”

What France is really saying is that they want their pre-internet borders back. It’s understandable, pretty much every country wants the internet to respect their borders. Governments really hate it when they can’t control the world. At least in the pre-internet age, they could at least control their citizens.

Google wants to have one system to serve them all. The problem with Google’s solution, is that all of Google is accessible from the EU. Google is being somewhat snarky by just delisting the .fr domain. At the very least they should have delisted all of the EU domains. (Not that it would have actually helped, but it would have looked a little less snarky.)

The only way to satisfy the French, along with the Chinese, the Turkish, the …… (you get the idea) is to create a version of Google for each political area that gets served to everyone from that area regardless of what they type into their web browser. Google.fr, Google.es, Google…., Google.com should all point to the version approved for the location of the user. If a user is in France then they should get Google results that comply with French laws first, then EU laws.

The problem with that is just how does Google know the location of the user making the browser request in real time? Physically track the location of the connection? Look up the registered user’s internet-license?, anything coming from a particular block of IP addresses?

The first isn’t very reliable, the second doesn’t actually exist (in most western countries at least), and the third is easily defeated by using a VPN.

Realistically, the best Google can do is #3. France/EU can give them a list of IP blocks (good luck with IPv6 self assigned blocks) that Google can redirect to the French approved Google results. Realizing of course that they will have to shortly thereafter expand that to the rest of the EU. Soon to be followed by China, India, Myramar, etc.

If the internet user utilizes a VPN to disguise their location, that’s not Google’s fault.

Should Google suggest to do the above, and France balks, then the world would know that they really do want to apply French law extraterritorially.

That One Guy (profile) says:

Re: Re:

If you can’t find it, it doesn’t exist for you. This is a very basic idea, and one that shows the claim that de-listed is completely different than removing is nothing but word games, true on the surface but nothing but a lie at it’s core.

Either de-listing removes something from being found, in which case it’s effectively the same as removing the searched for content, or it doesn’t, in which case it’s a waste of time and effort for all involved. Those are the only two possibilities.

Mason Wheeler (profile) says:

What’s never acknowledged in these rulings is that removing links from search engine results is pretty much the same thing as removing it from the original websites. If search engines can’t “find” it, it ceases to exist for all intents and purposes.

I often see this accepted as an article of faith, but how true is it really? I run a few websites, and I get maybe 20% of my traffic from general-purpose search engines such as Google. The vast majority of it comes in as links from more specialized sites.

JF (profile) says:

Lawsuit?

If, for example, Mr. Thomas Goolnik presses to have the TechDirt articles about him removed from the Google.com domains will TechDirt sue in US courts to have the results re-established?

The man has already demonstrated he is very interested in memory holing his info so I believe this is a very strong likelihood. I also believe TechDirt would have a very good case against him. Succeeding would then create a dilemma for Google (follow the EU court direction or the US’s) which would highlight the absurdity of the law.

Anonymous Coward says:

AS a protest google could block all ip searches from france on google.fr ,
imagine if google gives in to this ,
iran or russia could pass a similar law .
This is like the us government trying to say all emails
on any server in the world should be avaidable to the doj or the nsa .
Countrys are trying to extend their laws worldwide thru the web.

Anonymous Anonymous Coward says:

Google Maps

I can see it now. Some young person opens Google Maps over Europe and see’s this black splotch just south of England and east of Germany and says “Mommy, Mommy, what’s this black thing?” Of course Mommy will reply “Well honey, that use to be France, but they have a right to be forgotten, so we have.”

Anonymous Coward says:

There’s only one problem with the French court order, they don’t have jurisdiction to impose their ruling in other countries, even if the website is accessible on the internet in their country.

While I own and operate a website, I would never agree to adhere to a ruling by the French courts for the simple fact that neither me nor my website operates in Europe, despite being accessible in Europe.

This is just the European courts trying to impose their rulings on websites and companies that operate outside of Europe.

cpt kangarooski says:

I prefer the ‘have your cake and eat it too’ approach. Google should stop doing business in and holding assets reachable by the EU courts. But they should not turn their backs on France or the rest of the EU. Instead undo all the “forgotten” search results and keep honoring search requests out of the EU. Let advertising customers in the EU do business with Google, but only in the US or other friendly jurisdictions. After all, their money still spends okay, it’s just necessary to keep it away from their increasingly ridiculous judiciary. Since Google will still be available and will be providing better results than a home grown or forgetful search engine does, it won’t have to worry about a competitor moving into that niche.

Any operations that have to be in the EU that are sufficiently unrelated to search can be done through various cut outs. (Eg outsource street view photography to an unrelated company wholly owned by someone that Google can trust and rely on to not support competitors without permission, and who will keep costs down and charge little)

Given the clever work done to minimize their taxes, I’m sure that Google can restructure its EU operations to foil this memory hole policy.

Anonymous Coward says:

you can thank the USA DoJ for this! it seems to think that it can rule the world, have every country give up information just because there is a company elsewhere as well as in the USA! what is happening now, i think, is a retaliatory measure before the USA gets in! the best thing to do here is for Google to pull out of France. no one likes the frog fuckers anyway!!

John Cressman (profile) says:

Kill them... kill them all!

I say Google should cut service to them… so 1 month. And see how well people react.

Post a nice message about “We can no longer offer this service due to abusive government legislation. Once this legislation is revoked, service can be restored.”

What’s the alternative? The WORSE laws in the world now dictate global settings? So if Iran passes a law that no religious sites except for Islamic sites can be on the search engines, then Google has to de-index all Christian, Jewish, Hindu, etc sites? From around the world?

Anonymous Coward says:

I LIKE the ideas above! Yes, Google, get out of France!

The reason I like those ideas is shows how little you grasp of business, and your wacky spite when an international corporation is ordered by representatives of the people. You’re total corporate assets.

Again, Google should have just left it alone, done what could (though I think it’s practical to put the same text to be excluded in ALL its filters world-wide), and then made excuses as necessary.

Because the idea that Google is more powerful than France — or should even confront it — is RIDICULOUS.

crade (profile) says:

Re: I LIKE the ideas above! Yes, Google, get out of France!

They already did do what they could. They already obeyed the rules France wanted for France. It wasn’t good enough. The problem is France wants to set the rules for the entire world instead of for France, and (at least some of) the rest of the world doesn’t agree with France’s rule.

Keep up eh?

There’s no need for any confrontation, just stop serving France because meeting their crazy Google Only legal requirements is obviously impossible. They obviously do not want them their anyway

Anonymous Coward says:

It’s asking for “full observance” and then leaving it up to Google to comply with requests in countries where the Right to Be Forgotten isn’t recognized

Is that really true? I’m not seeing it. I don’t think they’re requiring Google to hide these results from people in the USA, only from Europeans accessing google.com. I doubt google.fr is actually in France anyway, all the domains are probably routed by geolocation and not TLD. And Google is a European company (because the tax laws were convenient, but they can’t pick and choose individual laws).

It seems like a bad decision but not as terrible as you’re making it out to be.

Beta (profile) says:

the magic words

“Google.fr, you must remove zese leenks.”

“But that would be absurd–“

“JUST DO EET!”

“All right, there, it’s done.”

“Eh? But you ‘ave not removed zem from zee othair domains!”

“Well no, you have authority over–“

“To ‘ave zem down on google.fr but steel up elsewhere, zis would be absurd!”

“Yes, we know, we–“

“Because, you see, someone can use one of ze ozair domains.”

“Yes, we know, we do this for a living, and–“

“Take zem all down! Everywhere! JUST DO EET!”

“You want your law to apply throughout the world?”

Mais non! We ‘ave not said zees! We ‘ave asked only zat you who are offering service ‘ere observe our law.”

“Your law, which you’re telling us to observe around the world?”

“Yes… Non! Oui! JUST DO EET!

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