Google is appealing a ruling made by French data regulator CNIL that requires the search engine giant to remove “right to be forgotten” (RTBF) URLs worldwide. Google claims that such a move may result in a “global race to the bottom,” as those with strict censorship policies could force their standards on more liberal countries.
CNIL decided earlier this year that Google should honour search removal requests for all users regardless of their location. Previously, Google had enforced RTBF in Europe, but the links remained visible in other markets such as the US. CNIL ruled that delisting in this way was not effective and fined the company $112,000 (£77,000).
Google has now appealed to France’s highest administrative court, the Conseil d’Etat, in an attempt to overturn the decision. Google’s Global General Counsel, Kent Walker, said that it had long been established that rules cannot be imposed on citizens of other countries and that the search engine giant has been working hard to respect these differences across the globe.
“We comply with the laws of the countries in which we operate,” Walker said. “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.”
He added: “This is not just a hypothetical concern. We have received demands from governments to remove content globally on various grounds — and we have resisted.” Walker revealed that Google has reviewed almost 1.5 million RTBF web pages and removed around 40 per cent of these. In France alone, it has delisted around 50 per cent of the near-300,000 links it has reviewed.
Google made changes to how people in Europe see removed search listings in March. This means that users in an EU country will not be able to see delisted pages even if they navigate to the US version of Google. The “right to be forgotten” was first introduced for European Union member states in 2014 following a ruling by the Court Justice of the European Union.