Google To France: No You Don't Get To Censor The Global Internet

from the well-this-could-get-interesting dept

As we’ve been covering here at Techdirt, French regulators have been pushing Google to censor the global internet whenever it receives “right to be forgotten” requests. If you don’t recall, two years ago, there was a dangerous ruling in the EU that effectively said that people could demand Google remove certain links from showing up when people searched on their names. This “right to be forgotten” is now being abused by a ton of people trying to hide true information they just don’t like being known. Google grudgingly has agreed to this, having little choice to do otherwise. But it initially did so only on Google’s EU domain searches. Last year, a French regulator said that it needed to apply globally. Google said no, explaining why this was a “troubling development that risks serious chilling effects on the web.”

French regulators responded with “don’t care, do it!” Google tried to appease the French regulators earlier this year with a small change where even if you went to Google.com, say, from France (rather than the default of Google.fr), Google would still censor the links based on your IP address. And, again, the French regulators said not good enough, and told Google it needed to censor globally. It also issued a fine.

As we noted at the time, Google immediately said it planned to appeal and that’s now officially in motion, as was explained in a writeup on Google’s own blog (and was also published in France’s Le Monde newspaper).

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.

This is a big, big deal for how the global internet will function. Giving the most censorious and autocratic countries veto powers over the global internet should obviously raise serious concerns among everyone — even those among you who hate or fear Google.

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Comments on “Google To France: No You Don't Get To Censor The Global Internet”

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60 Comments
That One Guy (profile) says:

Re: Rattling the saber in one hand, holding the 'donations' box with the other

The tax arrangements of international companies have come under close scrutiny recently.

Several have been accused of using legal methods to minimise their tax bills.

In Google’s case, its tax structure allows it to pay tax in the Republic of Ireland, even when sales appear to relate to the UK.

If the governments actually cared about companies pulling stunts like that they could simply close the loopholes in the tax code that allow large companies(Google or otherwise) to shift taxes to wherever it’s cheapest, but given that would step on the toes of those that buy the politicians I don’t imagine much will come of it except some of the large companies having to pay a little extra as ‘compensation’. Can’t upset the bosses after all.

Bergman (profile) says:

It goes further than that

“For example, this could prevent French citizens from seeing content that is perfectly legal in France.”

There are things France (and others) do as a nation that would be criminal acts in the United States. For example, displaying Nazi symbols or denying the holocaust are illegal in many Western European nations, but are protected speech under US law.

This means that, in theory, someone could sue France in a US federal court for civil/constitutional rights violations. If French law can reach into other countries, then US law can reach into France.

But it goes even further still. Anything you can sue for and win under 42 USC 1983 is also a criminal act under 18 USC 241 & 242. Winning a civil lawsuit for rights violation generates enough probable cause for a grand jury indictment and extradition to stand trial on criminal charges.

I wonder how the President of France would feel about being unable to enter the US or any country we have an extradition treaty with under penalty of immediate arrest for a crime punishable by 10 years to life in prison?

Roger Strong (profile) says:

Re: It goes further than that

I wonder how the President of France would feel about being unable to enter the US or any country we have an extradition treaty with under penalty of immediate arrest for a crime punishable by 10 years to life in prison?

He’d probably laugh at the very idea, and rightly so.

“Remember a few years ago when you were kidnapping people by the hundreds (well, about 200) on EU soil, beating and sodomizing them for “capture shock”, and torturing them? Remember when you successfully pressured Germany, Italy and Spain to drop charges against American agents and officials responsible?”

“Do you really want to want us to bring those charges back so that YOU can be extradited from any other country you visit? Do you really think that censoring Google searches will sound worse than… how did the MI5 agents who were present put it… “his genitals were sliced with a scalpel and other torture methods so extreme that waterboarding is very far down the list of things they did…?”

No, the US is not going to start extraditing EU leaders over Google searches.

Roger Strong (profile) says:

Re: Re: It goes further than that

No doubt Britain Germany and Italy do too. But you don’t see American officials being extradited there over kidnapping and torture, and so you won’t see American officials extradited over a mere search engine squabble.

Google has the option of not doing business in France. It can still run a French-language search engine and charge for advertising in other countries. But with no office or business in France itself, it would be beyond the reach of any French court decisions.

Anonymous Coward says:

Google, quit complaining and do something.

Turn off all Google service for requests originating from French IPs & instead display a page informing users that the government of France fails at the internet and is deliberately trying to restrict their access to information.

See how long it takes for the politicians to cave.

$100 says it won’t take more than 48 hours.

DannyB (profile) says:

Re: Google, quit complaining and do something.

display a page informing users that the government of France fails at the internet and is deliberately trying to restrict their access to information.

While I agree, wouldn’t this indicate that the french government has SUCCEEDED at restricting the citizens’ access to information?

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Google, quit complaining and do something.

Absolutely, which is highly unlikely to be the will of the French citizenry, so it won’t take long until the citizens encourage their government to reconsider – perhaps at the end of a pointy stick. Remember, France isn’t really known to maintain a particularly stable government anyway, being that they are already on their Fifth Republic. Unlike the United States, it’s citizens don’t mind watering the tree of liberty.

So consider, which is worse? 1) A very brief restriction on a relatively few people (who could still bypass the restriction via TOR, VPN or similar means) to prevent similar stupid ideas from popping up all over the globe in what are supposed to be free nations, or 2) continued capitulation and appeasement while ‘working through the system’ and hoping this fire wont spread.

Google (and any other provider in a similar position) needs to demonstrate that they stand for internet freedom, and will not support or conduct business in nations whose policies are anathema to this principle.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re: Google, quit complaining and do something.

So consider, which is worse? 1) A very brief restriction on a relatively few people (who could still bypass the restriction via TOR, VPN or similar means)

It would be interesting if Google set up a hidden service, like DuckDuckGo and Facebook, so they couldn’t know where the users are located. But for now, their search engine (and some other Google services) block most Tor users.

DannyB (profile) says:

Dear Google

Dear Google,

Your position on not letting France censor the global internet is not acceptable.

I don’t think you have thought this through. You don’t seem to understand what this will lead to.

If this policy is allowed to stand, then it will set a precedent that no other countries can censor the internet.

Before long, no country will be allowed to censor the global internet.

Please reconsider

For the Censors!

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Dear Google

The governments would come to an agreement that the official publishers are allowed to publish on the Internet, but that the people are not. Also all governments can control their part of the Internet at their borders, which would be easy with only a limited number of publishers, and would also removes the peoples ability to organize themselves on a large a scale.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Dear France, nerd harder!

“Please, please, for the love of God, please nationally invoke your nation’s right to be forgotten!”

Germany tried to assist them with that a few times as I recall.

My expectation is this is likely state protectionism aimed at some local French search engine providers. They are making a childish argument, and anyone in their own I.T. department would tell them so. So either they are the children they appear to be, or this is some sort of bizarre gambit.

Really this can be sorted out quite quickly. Google can just take all of France out of their routing table for a day or two and watch half of France crash. The search engine is small potatoes at this point. The portable java they have out there, gmail, youtube etc. Frances economy would grind to a halt.

Maybe that is what they are pissed about. There is of course a solution… Hey France! Nerd harder!

Anonymous Coward says:

France has just become the frontrunner....

as the most dangerous country in the world.
Google is not the internet, but if it happens to Google, then it will happen to all others as well.
They are going to screw with what is basicly the history book of the world…. and they just don’t care.
What I don’t understand is why there aren’t protests in the streets or why heads haven’t rolled yet? This is the most insane, craptastic, unfathomable, unforgivable, mindnumbingly stupid decisions ANYONE written about on Techdirt has ever made!
Just the suggestion of something like this should prove to anyone that the person simply aren’t fit for any job requiring descisionmaking and should be thrown out faster than you can say “monkeybrains”.
Whether or not, you use or like the internet, the fact is that it is the oppotunity for us all to learn about everything and each other which I see as the best way we have for preventing wars and suffering.
It is the greatest library in the world, but without an index it is worthless.
That makes France’s descision not only dangerous, but also incridibly evil.
I would be ashamed if that had come from someone in my country.

Going our way? says:

Re: Re:

Of course this demand places Google on a bad position. Not complying is likely going to cost them heavily in France. However, complying makes them open to being sued in the US for blocking legal content and taking ng a massive PR hit as well.

Isn’t Google its own worst PR team? Well, that’s what I thought, anyway..

Peter says:

Block everything

China or North Korea would ask Google to block Google, Facebook, Twitter etc. The French government can be really pigheaded sometimes. I suspect that this has more to do this beating down Google so that an EU competitor can “compete”, than it has to do with protecting people from their past.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

Yeees because if this happens Google will so get what is coming to them. It is not like it will be used for other seaarchengines as well or the public will suffer when it will be pratically impossible to find anything on the internet.
But who cares? It is Google so all that matters is that they go down.
Oh wait… you didn’t actually read what this was about? You just saw the word “Google” and everything went red? Almost like a bull doing some… what is the bull word for parroting?… lets just go with bullying.

Hugo S Cunningham (profile) says:

To webhost-- number the "anonymous cowards"?

Some “anonymous cowards” make valid contributions, but others are annoying trolls. Would it be possible to assign them sequential numbers in each thread (eg “ac-1”, “ac-2”, etc, to make it easy for others to reference their comments? Even better would be for them to keep the same number is for subsequent comments in the same thread, but that may be more trouble than it is worth.

Hugo S Cunningham (profile) says:

Only Congress has strength to protect US free speech.

European politicians would like nothing better than for Google to withdraw from their markets, leaving the field to local, politically connected players. If they start working in concert with non-European powers, there will come a point where Google, as a profit-making company, will feel an irresistible economic motivation to bring foreign censorship to America.

(#2) Only Congress has the power to stop this, by proclaiming that domestic free speech is a non-negotiable core value of our country, and giving the requisite six month notice that none our foreign trade agreements can prevent us from applying economic sanctions to uphold domestic free speech.

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