Google challenges French fine for not being forgetful enough

Applying the 'right to be forgotten' only to searches on sites aimed at European users should be enough, said Google

Google is appealing a fine from the French data protection authority for failing to implement the so-called right to be forgotten as ordered.

The Court of Justice of the European Union established the right to be forgotten, or delisted, in May 2014. The ruling allows people to ask search engines such as Google to hide certain links resulting from a search on their name.

In a 2015 order, the French National Commission on Computing and Liberty (CNIL) took a very broad approach to how companies should hide such results, saying the delisting should apply to searches on all Google properties worldwide, not just to EU domains.

Google, on the other hand, took a narrower view, removing results from searches performed on its European domains, including google.co.uk and google.fr, but not from its main site, google.com, even though it is accessible from within the EU.

In March CNIL fined Google €100,000 (US$112,000) for failing to comply with its 2015 order. It could have fined the company as much as €300,000 (US$336,000), but even that would have been but a pinprick in Google's $16.4 billion worldwide annual profit. Google said Thursday it had filed an appeal against the fine in the French Council of State, the country's highest administrative court.

The CJEU's 2014 ruling concerned a case brought by a Spaniard seeking to erase online traces of a 1998 newspaper announcement of a court-ordered auction of his real estate to recover debts. The court ordered Google to remove links to the announcement from the results of searches for the Spaniard's name, but allowed the announcement itself to remain online on the basis that references to such embarrassing events or minor misdeeds should be hard, but not impossible, to find.

Google's initial refusal to hide results from European searchers on google.com thwarted the court's intention, however.

Following CNIL's imposition of the fine in March, finally Google changed its policy, hiding affected results on google.com and its other non-European properties -- but only from users in the same country as the person requesting delisting.

CNIL, though, wants them hidden from all searchers, everywhere, a policy Google's global general counsel Kent Walker criticized in an opinion column published in the French newspaper Le Monde on Thursday and republished in English on the company's public policy blog.

"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," he wrote. "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?"

CNIL did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

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Peter Sayer

IDG News Service
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