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France is now censoring your Google search results, wherever you are

By Olivia Goldhill

The French now have the “right to be forgotten” worldwide.

The so-called right, established last May when a European court ruled that individuals could request search engines to remove links that appeared under their name, has so far only applied within the European Union. But French victims of the rule are set to have it enforced globally after the French data regulator dismissed an appeal from Google.

In May, the Commission Nationale de l’Informatique et des Libertés (CNIL) ordered Google to apply “right to be forgotten” removals to its international sites, not only its local domains within the European Union. Google said: ”That means a removal request by an individual in France, if approved, would not only be removed from google.fr and other European versions of Google Search, but from all versions of Google Search around the world.”

Google appealed the order in July, but this has now been rejected by the CNIL. Google must now remove tens of thousands of search results from google.com and other global domains. The ruling also applies to other search engines, like Bing and Yahoo.

Google previously said in a statement that the ruling is “a troubling development that risks serious chilling effects on the web.” But CNIL rejected this claim in a public statement released today (Sept. 21). This decision “simply requests full observance of European legislation by non-European players offering their services in Europe,” said the French data regulator.

Search engines were told to remove links that are inadequate, irrelevant, no longer relevant, excessive, and not in the public interest. But until now, this order could be circumvented by searching on international versions of the search engines.

Google has said that it’s processed more than a quarter of a million requests to delist more than 1 million links since the ruling, and has removed 41.6% of the URL requests it has processed so far.

Meanwhile, the Index on Censorship has previously said that removing results from search engines was “akin to marching into a library and forcing it to pulp books.” And several newspapers have reported that their articles have been removed from search results as a result of the European court’s new right.

Google reiterated its opposition to the legal decision after the ruling. “As a matter of principle we respectfully disagree with the idea that one national data protection authority can assert global authority to control the content that people can access around the world,” a spokesman told Quartz.

There’s no further opportunity to appeal the decision at this stage under French law. But, if Google refuses to comply, it could later appeal any sanctions levied by CNIL. Fines would likely start at around €300,000 ($336,000) but could increase to between 2-5% of Google’s global operating costs. The search engine could then go to the Conseil d’Etat, the supreme court for administrative justice, to appeal the decision and fine.