France Still Thinks It Regulates Entire Internet, Fines Google For Not Making Right To Be Forgotten Global
from the not-how-it-works dept
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 Google.fr, you wouldn't see those results, but Google.com 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 Google.fr 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.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.
"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.
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?