France’s data protection regulator has fined Google €100,000 (US$112,000) after it refused to comply with the regulator’s order to remove URLs from search results everywhere—not just within French borders.
In May 2014, the European Union Court of Justice (ECJ) ruled in the case González v. Google that the EU’s Data Protection Directive affords European citizens the “right to be forgotten,” effectively meaning they can ask search engine providers to remove from search results certain personal information about them if the information is “inadequate, irrelevant, or no longer relevant.” Should a search engine refuse to delist search results or respond unsatisfactorily, Internet users residing in Europe can take the matter to their national data protection authority.
Since the ruling, the “right to be forgotten” has threatened to create legal and enforcement hurdles for search engine providers on a global scale. As Compliance Week previously reported, this concern comes amid a formal notice that France’s data protection regulator, the CNIL, sent to Google in June 2015 ordering it to remove URLs from search results everywhere—not just European search engines. “CNIL considers that in order to be effective, delisting must be carried out on all extensions of the search engine,” the regulator said.
Google agreed to some of these requests, but carried out the delisting only on the search engine’s European geographic extensions. As a result, the delisted content remained accessible on the “.com” and non-European extensions. In May 2015, the CNIL issued a formal injunction to Google to extend delisting to all of the “Google Search” extensions within 15 days, arguing that delisting is only effective if it is carried out on all of the extensions.
Google has adamantly declined to comply with CNIL’s request, which could have broader implications for other search engine providers. “This is a troubling development that risks serious chilling effects on the Web,” Peter Fleischer, global privacy counsel for Google, said in a blog post on the company’s website.
If the CNIL’s proposed approach were the standard for Internet regulation, “the Internet would only be as free as the world’s least free place,” Fleischer wrote. “We believe that no one country should have the authority to control what content someone in a second country can access.”
Given Google’s failure to comply with the injunction within the allotted time frame, the CNIL decided to initiate a sanctions procedure against Google.
“Contrary to Google’s statements, applying delisting to all of the extensions does not curtail freedom of expression insofar as it does not entail any deletion of content from the Internet,” CNIL stated. “At a physical person’s request, it simply removes any links to website pages from the list of search results generated by running a search on the person's first name and surname. These pages can still be accessed when the search is performed using other terms.”