France Still Thinks It Regulates Entire Internet, Fines Google For Not Making Right To Be Forgotten Global

from the not-how-it-works dept

This isn’t necessarily surprising, but it is incredibly stupid. As you hopefully recall, in the summer of 2014 the EU Court of Justice came out with a dangerous ruling saying that a “right to be forgotten” applied to search engines and that Google needed to “de-link” certain search results from the names of individuals. We’ve discussed at great length the problems with this ruling, but it continues to be a mess.

Last summer, French regulators began to whine about Google’s implementation of the right to be forgotten, saying that it should apply worldwide. Google, instead, had only applied it to its EU domainspace. That is, if you were on, you wouldn’t see those results, but you would. Since Google tries to default you to the right top level domain for your country, that would mean that most people in the EU would not see the results that people wanted censored. But French regulators still demanded more. Google responded, telling the French regulators that this was crazy, because it would be a threat to free speech globally. If Google had to moderate content globally based on the speech laws of a single country, we’d have the lowest common denominator of speech online, and a ton of ridiculous censorship. Furthermore, Google pointed out that 97% of French users were on the domain, so demanding global censorship was pointless.

The French regulators came back, saying “don’t care, censor globally.” Finally, last month, Google made a small change to try to appease the regulators, saying that it wouldn’t just censor based on the top level domain, but entirely on whether or not it thought you were in France, based on your IP address or other indicators. So, even if you were in France, you couldn’t get around the block by typing the “.com” address in instead of the “.fr.”

And now, the French regulators have decided, once again, that this just isn’t good enough. It’s issued a fine for failing to censor the global internet:

On Thursday, France?s privacy regulator said its citizens? rights could be upheld only if the European privacy decision was applied globally, and that Google had failed to remove ? or ?delist? ? links from search results outside the European Union.

“For people residing in France to effectively exercise their right to be delisted, it must be applied to the entire processing operation, i.e. to all of the search engine?s extensions,? the agency, known as the Commission Nationale de l?Informatique et des Libertes, or CNIL, said in a statement.

CNIL also claims that Google’s concerns about regulating speech outside of France are misplaced, since it only applies to speech about people in France, so it’s their “data protection rights” that are the issue. That seems… shortsighted at best.

Google is planning to appeal the decision, and this is a big, big deal. Again, France — or any country — should have no authority to regulate or censor the global internet. It shouldn’t be difficult to recognize why this is.

In the decision, CNIL directly notes that a non-global solution is no good since people can use VPNs:

… technical solutions exist to circumvent the filter measure proposed by the company that allow Internet users to select the geographical location of their IP address (e.g. use of a VPN).

Um, yes. Of course not many people do that, but some do. Is that really a reason to argue that the global internet must be censored? Would France be comfortable if, say, China or Iran or North Korea suddenly decide that Google must also be censored to block out links to content they dislike, and that such content must be inaccessible in search results in France? Or are French data protection regulators really so short-sighted to not see the impact of this ruling?

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Comments on “France Still Thinks It Regulates Entire Internet, Fines Google For Not Making Right To Be Forgotten Global”

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That One Guy (profile) says:

Fight fire with fire, idiots with idiots

Clearly what we need is to find a country or government that is so offended by all things France that they order Google or some other company to delist any sites of the french government. Then, using the ‘logic’ of the french regulators that means that those sites will be required to be deslited globally, such that they effectively cease to exist.

Maybe having their own stuff removed will teach them what a bad idea insisting upon global censorship is, and if not at least people won’t have to listen to them what with their presence on the internet gone.

That Anonymous Coward (profile) says:

Re: Re:

They have a history of giving idiots exactly what they want and allowing the ensuing chaos make the point better than talking ever did.

I have questions if Bing or DuckDuckGo or Yahoo face the same things, or are they pretending the entire internet is Google once again?

Perhaps it would be in all of the search engines interest to block all French IP addresses. That way they no longer need to care about right to be forgotten. That won’t stop the French from complaining I’m sure, but as news agencies, tourism, and a host of other things that need the internet more than the internet needs them perhaps cooler heads will prevail or at least reign in their idiot leadership.

Also to be blunt, the Government couldn’t spot terrorists on watchlists perhaps they should spend more time fixing that system than worrying about if someone who did something horrible with a cow when they were younger can suppress that information globally.

GrooveNeedle (profile) says:

I just don’t understand how this “right” to be forgotten can be so misplaced. Google and other search engines are not the arbiters of the internet. They search for what is there, that’s it.

If this truly is a “right” (and I don’t think it is), then the specific sites hosting the information are to blame. Google’s role in this is non-existent. Are the French politicians so out of touch, even in the 21st century, that they can’t grasp that simple fact?

That One Guy (profile) says:

Re: The difference between that which doesn't exist, versus that which does exist but cannot be found

It’s a matter of terminology, and in particular trying to pretend that something isn’t what it actually is. If they went after the sites directly then they’d be hard pressed to explain why what they were doing wasn’t blatant censorship, given they’re ordering the removal of content not because it’s in violation of any laws but simply because someone doesn’t like it.

By instead going after the search engines however they get to pretend that that’s totally different, and absolutely not censorship at all because see, the content is still there, it’s just no-one who doesn’t already know where it is can find it.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: The difference between that which doesn't exist, versus that which does exist but cannot be found

Like I said the solution is for someone to stat a U.S. based only search engine that only has content that appears to be censored from Google. Then anyone can

A: Access it via VPN

B: If a company has a U.S. based branch they can talk to that branch to do a U.S. based search of a potential employee

C: People can call their U.S. friends or relatives to do a given search in the U.S.

and France will be powerless to do anything. Having a search engine or directory that specifically only highlights those that don’t appear on Google will draw even more attention to these people.

Anonymous Coward says:

“CNIL also claims that Google’s concerns about regulating speech outside of France are misplaced, since it only applies to speech about people in France, so it’s their “data protection rights” that are the issue.”

Free speech protection is about protecting the rights of the speaker not the subject of the speech. And since when does speech of another about someone constitute “data” that that person has any right to? They really aren’t thinking this through are they? Let’s take a really extreme and timely example here to illustrate a point. Do they really mean to say that a terrorist like the recently captured French shooter has the right to censor all of the news stories world wide that are published about him under due to his “right to be forgotten” simply because he doesn’t like what they are saying about him regardless of the truth? Really? Or do they want to rethink that position a little.

DigDug says:

Yo France, STFUaD

Your laws are meaningless outside your borders so please, STFUaD.

Yo Google, disconnect France from your services for a week, watch the ensuing chaos as the politicians and judges end up with bricks and other flying materials crashing through their windows as their own citizens pummel them into submission.

John85851 (profile) says:

Re: Yo France, STFUaD

I was just about to say this.
If Google stopped all its services in France, who would lose more: Google or the French people? Imagine if the entire country was locked out of GMail or search because Google wouldn’t put up with the regulations from the government?
And remember, French people are known for rioting over causes.

eaving (profile) says:

Nuclear option

End this simply, and in a similar manner to when Euro newspapers tried charging Google to link to them. Have google sense country of origin for people from France. Pull up a 404 listing why google is not available to the French, along with the contact information for the policos involved. Let them explain to their populous why they no longer have access to google.

Kalean says:

A simple yet costly solution for a complex problem.

If Google simply closes up shop in France entirely, France will fold in less than a month’s time.

It will cost Google a lot of revenue, but make one thing perfectly clear: They don’t need France’s approval. Period.

Google’s got enough on their plate without worrying about another Spain.

Almost Anonymous (profile) says:

Re: A simple yet costly solution for a complex problem.

Honestly, I doubt it would be that costly. What reasonable percentage of Google’s income is likely to come from France? 3%? Maybe 2%? It would be well worth it in the longer run, if it got rid of all the extra hoops Google has to jump through to appease these luddites.

Davelaw (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:2 A simple yet costly solution for a complex problem.

Google is immunized in the USA by the CDA and SPEECH Act. However, even if they removal all of their physical and financial assets from France, CNIL could try and get a monetary judgment enforced in some other EU country where Google has assets. Ultimately, you could see Google telling CNIL and the rest of the cooperating EU to pound sand by removing all operations and assets from the EU, and making all content on Google available to everyone in the EU since US courts would not enforce their judgments,

Triple-M (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: GAAAAH!

Yes! Thank you! This is much more serious than people think it is.

From Ars Technica: “My issue with this is not about about the right to be forgotten. It is part of much larger issue.

This is about a particular country (or group of countries) trying to impose its laws / censorship on the rest of the world.

This opens a door that should stay closed. If we give in to this we will have an internet that is based on what the most censorious country wants.

Thailand’s law about their king and various other lèse majesté laws, all of the various blasphemy laws around the world, Russian laws on “homosexual propaganda”, etc. These are all laws that various countries can demand to be imposed on the internet the rest of us uses.”

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:2 GAAAAH!

This opens a door that should stay closed. If we give in to this we will have an internet that is based on what the most censorious country wants.

It will result in the Internet that all countries agree on, and as the different politicians could not agree on very much, the Internet will become an empty wasteland of corporate advertising.

Craig Welch (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:2 GAAAAH!

“This is about a particular country (or group of countries) trying to impose its laws / censorship on the rest of the world”.

Oh – as the US does through its trade agreements, for example. The TPP is a fine example of that, where increased copyright and patent terms are ratcheted up by the US.

Although to be fair, if other countries are stupid enough to sign such agreements, they deserve all they get …

Anonmylous says:

So lets flip it...

Country X now decides that if Google has links to historical data about a person, they MUST include those in search results AND place them prominently, and that government has the right to do so. And then says google MUST do this globally.

Will France declare war on that country now? Google is in the middle and on one side has to delist, but on the other has to prominently display any such results.

This is the end result of such madness. Do not censor the search engines. Censor the providers if you must. You fight a losing battle. A change to a link and it gets relisted, a new article pops up about the request and its basically relisted. It is a hydra and you will not slay it by cutting off heads and tails. France understands this, they have been fighting copyright infringement like everyone else. Why they think it’ll work with historical data any better is beyond me.

ECA (profile) says:


Lets see…
Editing all searches from finding ANY persons name for 1 country..
This could be Spectacular..
Who can see, that when ANYONE in france searches up ANY person, they find NOTHING..
No wiki’s
No Sites that mention a rulers names..
You cant even search for yourself..

NOW lets think about state, county, federal records listing…NONE ARE LISTED because that have certain, and everyone’s NAMES…

PARTY HARD are all invisible..
NOW you have to goto another country to find any info on where you live..

Anonymous Coward says:


“Or are French data protection regulators really so short-sighted to not see the impact of this ruling?”

No, there is an international society of censors who are all working towards the same ends. The society is so secret that many censors are unaware they are members and think they’re working in their national interest.

jimm (profile) says:

Grumpy Google?

Imagine what Google could do if it became grumpy.

A small hit, just require an extra click or two for each search from France or involving France, explaining Google’s position – things get worse add clicks, things get better remove extra clicks, all the joy of a youtube ad, and users will get in the habit of avoiding those links for ones that don’t bother them.

Or for a bigger punch:
The French are proud of their language to such an extent that they have objected to English loan words, suppose any results from France or in French were run through Google Translate before being displayed, explaining that due to concerns over the legal climate all or French language results have been automatically translated for your convenience…
But if needed could be automatically translated back into French, for a translation round-trip.
They could also make French a opt-in, requiring explicit action to enable, perhaps expiring every month…

Anonymous Coward says:

This is a really bad time to be info-isolationist in the EU.

What do they think is going to happen? They are going to constrain the public view and all of a sudden there is going to be LESS political extremism?

My thinking is that this is protectionist. They really don’t give a shit about Google. They are just trying to boost some local search engines position in France so they can exercise more control over domestic propaganda.

In the U.S. we take a slightly different view. We just produce more domestic propaganda than there is legitimate content.

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