Google is appealing against a ruling by France's data privacy regulator demanding that the company removes certain web search results worldwide. The Commission on Informatics and Liberty (CNIL) has deemed that that the EU's "right to be forgotten" policy regarding search engine results should apply globally, a claim Google attests on the grounds that it could be abused by "less open and democratic countries".
A ruling passed down by the European Union's Court of Justice (ECJ) in 2014 gives people the right to ask Google and other search engines to have information linked to their names removed from search results if they deem it inaccurate or irrelevant. However, the so-called right to be forgotten rule only applies to results from European websites or those serving EU customers, meaning companies can't scrub results from search engines accessed from other countries.
For example, in Europe Google would be able to delete search results from Google.com, Google.co.uk. Google.fr, Google.de and so forth. However, someone accessing a non-European version of the website from outside the EU would still be able to see the links.
The CNIL believes that France's right to be forgotten policies should be applied globally, and has imposed a €100,000 fine (£77,000/$112,000) against Google for not delisting content links on a more widespread basis. Google has now lodged an appeal against the sanction with France's supreme administrative court, saying the CNIL's demands runs the risk of allowing countries to impose their own laws in those in which they have no authority.
"Not just a hypothetical concern"
The company said in a statement: "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."
A spokesperson for France's Council of State told Reuters that the court hadn't yet received a formal appeal from Google. They added that the procedure was expected to take "several months."
Google said it had delisted approximately 600,000 websites across Europe since 2014 as a result of right to be forgotten requests, and around 150,000 in France alone.