Google Partially Caves To French Demands For More Global Censorship Of 'Forgotten' Links

from the disappointing dept

For a while now we've been highlighting the problems of Europe's "Right to be Forgotten" concept as it applies to search results. The idea is that, rather than a search engine, Europe thinks of companies like Google as creating something of a "dossier" on individuals, over which they should be able to delete old or irrelevant "data." This means that, in the EU, people can apply to Google to "de-link" certain stories that they consider to no longer be relevant, even if those stories are 100% accurate and true. Not surprisingly, given a chance to "delink" yourself from truthful information has resulted in lots and lots of people demanding Google "forget" links about them. Google now has a process to go through these, and certainly has rejected many requests, but it still appears to accept many requests that appear to be obviously bogus attempts to hide information someone just dislikes.

Last summer, French regulators decided that Google wasn't doing enough, and that Google needed to not just censor links on Google's EU domains, but globally. Google responded, noting that this was highly problematic, given that the EU did not have jurisdiction over the globe, and France basically responded with a "shut up, do it anyway."

And now it appears that Google has gone back to the French regulators with a partial solution. While some have said it means that Google will, in fact, start "forgetting" links globally, that does not appear to be the case from looking at the details. Instead, it looks like Google will now try to block based on where Google thinks users are coming from, rather than which Google domain they're using. This is a subtle difference which, in most cases, may not be different at all. That is, when you visit Google from a variety of countries, Google already tries to geolocate you, and will often redirect you to the "local" version of the search engine -- such as Google.fr in France.

Under the current RTBF system, Google removes those links on the specific searches if you're on such an EU domain. However, if you're in France and you force your browser to visit Google.com, the same links would not be missing. So the "compromise" is that now Google will remove the links based on where it thinks you physically are, even if you force your browser to visit a non-local domain name. This will not really impact that many people -- just those who force Google to visit a different domain than their local domain. But, still, it's a further compromise and a move towards greater censorship of accurate link results. Of course, what's stupid is that basically anyone who knows enough to force Google to not use a local domain probably also knows how to use a VPN or proxy to appear to be coming from outside Europe.

Still, the big question now is whether or not French regulators will find this an "acceptable" compromise, or if they will continue to insist on global censorship over accurate information in an effort to suppress truthful information.

Reader Comments (rss)

(Flattened / Threaded)

  1. icon
    That One Guy (profile), Feb 12th, 2016 @ 7:27am

    Companies who ignore the past are bound to repeat it

    Still, the big question now is whether or not French regulators will find this an "acceptable" compromise, or if they will continue to insist on global censorship over accurate information in an effort to suppress truthful information.

    No guessing needed, now that Google has indicated that it's willing to back down in part, you can be absolutely sure that it's only a matter of time until they're back to demanding that Google's efforts aren't good enough and insist that Google globally delist links to prevent people from being able to view them.

    As their actions have clearly shown, the french regulators have no interest in just making sure that people in france are blocked from viewing memory-holed pages/articles/sites, they want everyone to be blocked from viewing them so that no amount of effort will allow someone to bypass their censorship. As such anything short of that will be considered not good enough, and they will demand even more so long as they can.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  2. icon
    ThatFatMan (profile), Feb 12th, 2016 @ 8:46am

    Not sure if this has been suggested before

    Why limit RTBF to the internet? If such a right actually exists, and has to be applied globally, then let's do it.

    So all those criminals have a right to have those past crimes forgotten right? Robbed a house a couple of years ago, so what, it's old news and no one cares now, strike it from the arrest record. That murder from 15 years ago went cold, let's forget about it. I haven't heard Snowden's name tossed around as much lately as it was a couple of years ago, I guess we've moved on. He has the right to be forgotten too, and come back home and move on with his life. All those registered sex offenders who did their time in prison, let's forget about it and remove them from that list (which, can be found online).

    Point is, why is it OK to be forgotten on the internet, but not in any other aspect of your life? Especially when that aspect is records kept by the government?

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  3. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Feb 12th, 2016 @ 8:49am

    I would like France not to show up in my Google searches, please

    I find it rather distasteful and irrelevant, at this point.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  4. icon
    Whatever (profile), Feb 12th, 2016 @ 9:04am

    Re: Companies who ignore the past are bound to repeat it

    " As such anything short of that will be considered not good enough, and they will demand even more so long as they can."

    The difference here is that Google had taken the needed step to put themselves in the "right" rather than in the questionable. They are now doing everything normally technically possible to stop French citizens from accessing the material that has been deemed unacceptable to French citizens.

    Any further push from the French regulators (as you suggest to have those links removed from Google worldwide) could be very easily met with a challenge in front of the EU courts. While it might be expensive and take time, Google is a company with plenty of both on hand and the legal team to pull it off.

    My guess is that Google's lawyers figured out that until they capitulate by forcing french surfers to a "french only Google", they would be leaving themselves open for legal action. Now they can show the sort of good faith and effort required to prove that their intention is to go along with the (idiotic, moronic, mindless) rulings of the French regulator. They have moved themselves from "arrogant company" to "cooperative and willing company", and a model corporate citizen for any push to get more concessions outside of France.

    Oh, for what it's worth, the current Tax witch hunt in many parts of Europe make it very likely that big companies like Google will end up with an office in just about every country in the Union to transact the business in that country. As such, it's very much in Google's interest to play ball, rather than risk the potential penalties that could come.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  5. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Feb 12th, 2016 @ 9:07am

    Re: Not sure if this has been suggested before

    ...why is it OK to be forgotten on the internet, but not in any other aspect of your life? Especially when that aspect is records kept by the government?...

    Not just government but private enterprise as well. How many databases out there have information on you that you CANNOT review for accuracy?

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  6. icon
    OldMugwump (profile), Feb 12th, 2016 @ 9:13am

    Re: Re: Not sure if this has been suggested before

    Private enterprise can't smash my door at 3am and send heavily armed goons to kill or imprison me.

    Government can.

    That's a big difference.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  7. identicon
    Pixelation, Feb 12th, 2016 @ 9:17am

    Hey Google...

    Pull out of France before you birth something unwanted.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  8. icon
    OldMugwump (profile), Feb 12th, 2016 @ 9:18am

    This is the end?

    At this point Google has gone as far as technically possible to accommodate the MoT and thoughtcrime (oops; I mean RTBF).

    I don't see how the EU can ask any more without *completely* breaking the Internet.

    If country A says Google *must not* do X, and country B says they *must* do X (and that will surely happen), there's no way to accommodate both if Google can't split the baby somehow.

    It will be interesting to see what the EU tries next.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  9. identicon
    Anonymous Anonymous Coward, Feb 12th, 2016 @ 9:20am

    Re: I would like France not to show up in my Google searches, please

    Now there's an idea. A new Boolean search parameter, -F, which will prevent anything French or from France being a part of the search result.

    Or maybe return cake recipes, as in "Let them eat". A bit of a conundrum if those recipes have any 'French' in their history they could be shown.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  10. icon
    Nathan F (profile), Feb 12th, 2016 @ 10:01am

    Sounds like a lite version of China's Great Firewall. Shall we call France's version the Maginot Line, because I think it is going to be about as effective as that physical fortification.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  11. icon
    That One Guy (profile), Feb 12th, 2016 @ 10:04am

    Re: Re: Companies who ignore the past are bound to repeat it

    Could be, suppose I hadn't considered it from that angle. They give ground here so that they can point to it and claim that they're doing everything they reasonably can to comply with the court orders, and argue as such in court.

    I still don't believe that the regulators will accept it as being 'enough', and I'm almost certain that they will continue to push for a global de-listing, but it might be enough for other courts to buy, even if I don't care for the precedent.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  12. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Feb 12th, 2016 @ 10:20am

    Re: Re: Re: Not sure if this has been suggested before

    "Private enterprise can't smash my door at 3am and send heavily armed goons to kill or imprison me.

    Government can.

    That's a big difference."

    Not legally...[MPAA]

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  13. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Feb 12th, 2016 @ 10:33am

    Re: Re: Re: Companies who ignore the past are bound to repeat it

    You are probably right, however, someone should create a U.S. only database that specifically points out those people that try to take advantage of the privilege to be forgotten and catalogs everything about them. Since it's in the U.S. only the EU can't do anything about it. That will allow those that use such a bad law to face the Streisand effect.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  14. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Feb 12th, 2016 @ 10:35am

    Re: Re: Companies who ignore the past are bound to repeat it

    Well at least you seem to agree that these French laws and rulings are ridiculous. and I think that's part of the point of this article, not to really agree or disagree with Google's compliance (it's a tough situation for them either way, they didn't ask for these dumb laws) but to point out how bad French law is here.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  15. icon
    DannyB (profile), Feb 12th, 2016 @ 11:13am

    Re: Re: Re: Not sure if this has been suggested before

    > Private enterprise can't smash my door at 3am
    > and send heavily armed goons to kill or imprison me.

    What planet are you living on?

    Private enterprise calls up their buddies in the US government. Who get their buddies in a foreign government to conduct a military style raid on a private home to seize servers because, um . . .

    (no, not terrorists, but something far, FAR worse . . .)

    Copyright infringement. (Or at least, having knowledge that some of your users might possibly be engaging in copyright infringement on your Megaupload site.)

    And then that same private enterprise gets their buddies in the US government to try to extradite Kim Dotcom.


    In the future, private enterprise won't send heavily armed goons to kill you. It will be automated with outsourced happy friendly killer robots*.

    * with cuddly fuzzy exteriors

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  16. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Feb 12th, 2016 @ 11:15am

    > ...Google will now try to block based on where Google thinks users are coming from, rather than which Google domain they're using.

    So if I'm using a VPN, and ask for a page in German or French or Italian, is Google going to assume I'm German (et al) and memory wipe its results for me? How about if my TOR exit node is in the EU?

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  17. icon
    DannyB (profile), Feb 12th, 2016 @ 11:16am

    Use the Nuclear Right To Be Forgotten option

    Dear Google,

    Simply give all of France their Right To Be Forgotten. Simply stop indexing anything from France.

    Problem solved.

    Everyone happy including all of France.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  18. icon
    DannyB (profile), Feb 12th, 2016 @ 11:23am

    Re: Hey France...

    Why doesn't France build its own national search engine that has the precisely fine tuned censorship policies that the government wants?

    No need to contact Google to make changes.

    If it's not on your own search engine, then it must not exist. (Otherwise called the Right To Bury One's Head In The Sand.)

    You could even brand it as: See No Evil, Hear No Evil, Speak No Evil.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  19. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Feb 12th, 2016 @ 12:44pm

    The only way to win is not to play

    Apparently france thinks they live in a world where they can dictate what everyone knows/thinks of them, talk about narcissism.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  20. icon
    OldMugwump (profile), Feb 12th, 2016 @ 12:52pm

    Re: Re: Hey France...

    They already tried that.

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Quaero

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  21. identicon
    ryuugami, Feb 12th, 2016 @ 2:20pm

    Re: Re: Re: Not sure if this has been suggested before

    I bet Kim Dotcom would like to disagree.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  22. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Feb 12th, 2016 @ 2:44pm

    Re:

    Yes. Tiananmen Square anyone?

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  23. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Feb 12th, 2016 @ 4:31pm

    They don't care when their government spies on their citizens or allows other governments to spy on their citizens but the moment they think a private corporation is doing it, they suddenly care.

    My guess is because they are not profiting from it.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  24. icon
    tqk (profile), Feb 12th, 2016 @ 5:00pm

    Re: Use the Nuclear Right To Be Forgotten option

    Everyone happy including all of France.

    True, only if you forget about every single person on French territory will be paying the price of these bone headed officials' mis-belief system.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  25. identicon
    Nomad of Norad, Feb 12th, 2016 @ 5:27pm

    How hard can we push laws the other way, though?

    I'm wondering what it would take to get this sort of arbitrary censorship demand by one or the other country or principality to become illegal worldwide, with some majorly gigantic fines for countries that violate such an anti-censorship mandate? Maybe insert it into some sort of major treaty they all want to sign for other, more brings-them-benifits reasons?

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  26. icon
    Whatever (profile), Feb 12th, 2016 @ 8:40pm

    Re: Re: Re: Companies who ignore the past are bound to repeat it

    I think the law is a bit silly, but it is the law. It is for the people of France to decide what is right or not right for them.

    I actually think it's a story more about the future of the internet. After many years of no borders and growth without consideration for local laws, rulings, and yes TAXES, various governments are getting interested in regulating and collecting from the online world. This sort of thing shows a certain amount of sovereignty when it comes to the online world.

    For me, Google is now doing all they can do. Short of outlawing VPNs and TOR, they cannot do much else to stop French citizens from accessing material outside. Removing it entirely would be a punishment for the 99% of the world not subject to French law, and that wouldn't be acceptable.

    Perhaps 10 years from now we will be looking at an internet that is often different depending on where you live or where you are at the time. The laws, the legal system, and the tax man are all catching up to the internet world.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  27. identicon
    Aterfuturo, Feb 13th, 2016 @ 8:36am

    Why are they even bothing Google with this?

    Google only searches existing content. Google does not create or host the information. Why doesn't the EU take their legal remedy to the people who actually host the offending content and have them remove it.
    Once removed, Google would no longer find it and they don't have to bother with Google in any way.

    Why does Google have anything to do with this issue?

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  28. icon
    tqk (profile), Feb 13th, 2016 @ 9:16am

    Re: Re: Re: Re: Companies who ignore the past are bound to repeat it

    Perhaps 10 years from now we will be looking at an internet that is often different depending on where you live or where you are at the time.

    That's a new thing, and I'd say we're already well along that path.
    The laws, the legal system, and the tax man are all catching up to the internet world.

    I don't believe that's possible. Start with the definition of Internet: "a computer network consisting of a worldwide network of computer networks", and it's not static.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  29. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Feb 14th, 2016 @ 2:11am

    Re: Re: Re: Re: Companies who ignore the past are bound to repeat it

    Whatever saying the law is the law is the law?

    I'm shocked, I tell you. Shocked! I could never have saw this coming!

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  30. icon
    John Fenderson (profile), Feb 14th, 2016 @ 5:55am

    Re: Why are they even bothing Google with this?

    Because Google is rich and evil, of course.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  31. icon
    Davelaw (profile), Feb 14th, 2016 @ 6:40am

    Re: Companies who ignore the past are bound to repeat it

    "As such anything short of that will be considered not good enough, and they will demand even more so long as they can."

    It's a dead end now. GEO filtering is what Google should have done in the first place, which is what many other U.S. websites do in order to deprive would-be plaintiffs of foreign legal jurisdiction. In most of these cases the content isn't actionable and in any event Google is immunized by the CDA.If the posts are no longer accessible from IPs in the EU, it's a dead end for them; they would have to sue in someplace where they are accessible, actionable and that has personal jurisdiction over the parties. Of course, anyone can circumvent GEO filtering by piping through a proxy that isn't located in a filtered jurisdiction, but in doing so they effectively teleporting themselves out of the EU and into the proxy's jurisdiction. Which is why the EU's efforts were doomed from the start. The law would not allow them to force the removal of this non-actionable content at the source, so they stupidly tried to make Google their proxy.

    Don't blame Google or similarly situated websites for this. They do not exist in a vacuum and should respect the laws of other countries to the fullest extent possible within those jurisdictions. This is the right thing to do, and if the citizens of those countries don't like it they can and should address it with their policy makers and legislators.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  32. identicon
    Wendy Cockcroft, Feb 15th, 2016 @ 2:58am

    Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Companies who ignore the past are bound to repeat it

    Well it is, whether we like it or agree with it or not. And he's actually being perfectly reasonable here so give him a break.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  33. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Feb 15th, 2016 @ 6:03am

    Re: Re: Why are they even bothing Google with this?

    Because Google is rich and evil, of course.

    And American.

    I'm reminded of a business trip I made to Paris once. Half a dozen of us from my company were eating lunch at sidewalk cafe in Paris when a Frenchman walking down the street heard us speaking American English and stopped at our table. He then proceeded to just straight up ask us for money. We politely declined, at which time he them proceeded to point at each of us in turn and say "fuck you, and fuck you, and fuck you..." until he told told each and every one of us to get fucked. That pretty well summed up the attitude we found there towards Americans: "Give us your money or fuck you!".

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  34. icon
    nasch (profile), Feb 15th, 2016 @ 9:41am

    Conversation

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  35. icon
    John Fenderson (profile), Feb 15th, 2016 @ 7:09pm

    Re: Re: Re: Why are they even bothing Google with this?

    Well, you may be right that there's an element of anti-Americanism to this, but it's also true that this irrational* anti-Google attitude exists amongst segments of American too, and I had an almost identical experience as your French cafe one -- except mine was in America.

    *I need to insert an explanation here -- I am not a pro-Google kind of guy. I take serious exception to many of their corporate and privacy policies and avoid using their services. However, there is a subgroup of people who criticize Google for stupid things or things Google doesn't do. This is what I mean by "irrational".

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  36. identicon
    Nevenhope, Feb 16th, 2016 @ 4:35am

    Re: Re: Re: Not sure if this has been suggested before

    What about government sent on behalf of private enterprise? Aka cops, the marines in Iraq, etc. They work with each other. They're buddies!

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  37. icon
    DannyB (profile), Feb 16th, 2016 @ 2:06pm

    Re: Re: Re: Hey France...

    Then why didn't they force everyone to use it to ensure correct thinking of the citizens?

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  38. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Mar 6th, 2016 @ 10:50am

    Why doesn't france just make it illegal to use google?

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]


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