Thursday

18th Jul 2019

Analysis

Google has own idea of what 'right to be forgotten' means

  • 'While the right to be forgotten may now be the law in Europe, it is not the law globally' (Photo: Rosa Jimenez Cano)

Since a landmark ruling on the so-called 'right to be forgotten' by the Court of Justice of the European Union, Google has received requests to remove over a million website links from its search results in Europe.

Of those 1,057,561 uniform resource locators (URLs), it deleted 370,112, or 41.3 percent, Google says.

Read and decide

Join EUobserver today

Support quality EU news

Get instant access to all articles — and 18 year's of archives. 30 days free trial.

... or join as a group

The court had ruled in May 2014 that if an internet search into an EU citizen's name yielded results which were “inadequate, irrelevant or no longer relevant”, that citizen may request the search engine to have those removed from the list of results.

For example, Google complied with a request from a Belgian whose conviction of a crime was quashed on appeal to remove an article about them. It also removed an article about a rape victim in Germany.

However, it did so only for the European versions of its search engine. That means the articles can still be found by those using google.com. This has come to the attention of the French data protection authority.

It sent Google a formal notice in June, saying “delisting must be carried out on all extensions of the search engine”.

On Thursday, the US company asked the French data watchdog to withdraw the notice. It interprets the court ruling as obliging Google only to apply the ‘right to be forgotten’ on its European versions of Google Search.

“While the ‘right to be forgotten’ may now be the law in Europe, it is not the law globally”, Google's global privacy counsel Peter Fleischer wrote in a blog post.

However, in its ruling the EU court did not differentiate between the worldwide and national versions of the search engine.

Google, in its blogpost, also noted that the French order “is disproportionate and unnecessary, given that the overwhelming majority of French internet users—currently around 97%—access a European version of Google’s search engine like google.fr, rather than Google.com or any other version of Google”.

But this statement is misleading at best. Many people don't use a national variant of Google instead of the global one, but in addition to it.

Google.fr is indeed the most visited web domain in France, according to internet traffic pollster Alexa. But Google.com is ranked third, between Facebook.com and Youtube.com.

According estimates, Facebook has about 26 million users, and Youtube around 22 million, in France.

While calculation methods may vary, this means that Google.com is used by, roughly, between 22 and 26 million French internet users – or along the lines of between 40 and 47 percent.

The picture is similar all over Europe, where the national version of Google is the most popular website, and the international version ranks as high as number two in the UK, Spain and the Netherlands, number three in Poland.

Google did not respond to a request for comment on Friday.

Free speech

Fleischer also argued that if the French data protection authority CNIL had its way, this would affect internet users in the rest of the world.

“If the CNIL’s proposed approach were to be embraced as the standard for Internet regulation, we would find ourselves in a race to the bottom. In the end, the Internet would only be as free as the world’s least free place,” he wrote.

Google warned of a risk of “serious chilling effects on the web”, noting examples of content that is illegal in one country but which is legal in others.

“Thailand criminalises some speech that is critical of its King, Turkey criminalises some speech that is critical of Ataturk, and Russia outlaws some speech that is deemed to be “gay propaganda."”, he wrote.

But Fleischer is overstating the effect a national – or in the EU case regional – court order has on the wider development of the Internet.

In 2002, there were similar fears after a ruling in an Australian libel case against American company Dow Jones over the publication of an online article from its business magazine Barron's. The highest Australian court decided that because the article was available in Australia, the subject could sue for defamation there.

Following the decision, the New York Times wrote in an editorial the case “could strike a devastating blow to free speech online”.

But the conclusion of authors Jack Goldsmith and Tim Wu in their 2006 book “Who controls the Internet?, Illusions of a Borderless World”, that the predicted devastation has been held off, is still valid today.

Moreover, they criticised the US-centrism that is present among Internet freedom activists as much as in the rhetoric of American companies like Google.

Goldsmith and Wu wrote that “the First Amendment does not reflect universal values … and they are certainly not written into the Internet's architecture”.

However, some of the most used websites worldwide are American, and they inherently carry some of those American values, which slightly differ from European values, where privacy is generally regarded as much more important.

Google said it disagreed with the French data protection authority “as a matter of principle”.

Principle or also profit?

But it could well be that part of the company's motivation comes from the costs that would be involved with extending the right to be forgotten to its other domain names.

Technically, it is not impossible for Google to do it. But it may reduce the public company's profit margin.

As Goldberg and Wu noted, “national Internet laws are no more burdensome than the scores of conflicting national laws that multinational firms typically face”. In return, companies gain access to an enormous market.

Having to adhere to different laws when providing services around the world, is part of the deal for running a global company. Even online.

News in Brief

  1. Nato chief warns world against more Russian missiles
  2. Germany closes Amazon probe as EU opens another
  3. Report: US chipmaker Qualcomm set for new EU fine
  4. Ireland fears Brexit time zone split
  5. Selmayr to leave EU commission post
  6. EU 'appeasement' of Iran like that of Nazis, Israel says
  7. Report: EU anti-trust chief to go after Amazon
  8. Report: France to back Kovesi for EU prosecutor

Are EU data watchdogs staffed for GDPR?

The success of the new general data protection regulation (GDPR) will depend on whether data protection authorities enforce the new rules - which, in turn, will be at least partly determined by how many people they employ.

Eight countries to miss EU data protection deadline

The EU starts enforcing its general data protection regulation on 25 May - but Belgium, Bulgaria, Cyprus, Czech Republic, Greece, Hungary, Lithuania and Slovenia won't be ready. The delay will cause legal uncertainty.

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. UNESDAUNESDA reduces added sugars 11.9% between 2015-2017
  2. International Partnership for Human RightsEU-Uzbekistan Human Rights Dialogue: EU to raise key fundamental rights issues
  3. Nordic Council of MinistersNo evidence that social media are harmful to young people
  4. Nordic Council of MinistersCanada to host the joint Nordic cultural initiative 2021
  5. Vote for the EU Sutainable Energy AwardsCast your vote for your favourite EUSEW Award finalist. You choose the winner of 2019 Citizen’s Award.
  6. Nordic Council of MinistersEducation gets refugees into work
  7. Counter BalanceSign the petition to help reform the EU’s Bank
  8. UNICEFChild rights organisations encourage candidates for EU elections to become Child Rights Champions
  9. UNESDAUNESDA Outlines 2019-2024 Aspirations: Sustainability, Responsibility, Competitiveness
  10. Counter BalanceRecord citizens’ input to EU bank’s consultation calls on EIB to abandon fossil fuels
  11. International Partnership for Human RightsAnnual EU-Turkmenistan Human Rights Dialogue takes place in Ashgabat
  12. Nordic Council of MinistersNew campaign: spot, capture and share Traces of North

Latest News

  1. Timmermans trolls 'idiot' Brexit negotiators
  2. Rudderless Europe: Will real Germany please stand up?
  3. PiS & Fidesz claim credit for von der Leyen victory
  4. Von der Leyen faces gender battle for commission posts
  5. EU proposes yearly rule of law 'reports'
  6. Poland 'optimistic' despite new EU law checks
  7. What did we learn from the von der Leyen vote?
  8. Is Golden Dawn's MEP head of a criminal organisation?

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Nordic Council of MinistersLeading Nordic candidates go head-to-head in EU election debate
  2. Nordic Council of MinistersNew Secretary General: Nordic co-operation must benefit everybody
  3. Platform for Peace and JusticeMEP Kati Piri: “Our red line on Turkey has been crossed”
  4. UNICEF2018 deadliest year yet for children in Syria as war enters 9th year
  5. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic commitment to driving global gender equality
  6. International Partnership for Human RightsMeet your defender: Rasul Jafarov leading human rights defender from Azerbaijan
  7. UNICEFUNICEF Hosts MEPs in Jordan Ahead of Brussels Conference on the Future of Syria
  8. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic talks on parental leave at the UN
  9. International Partnership for Human RightsTrial of Chechen prisoner of conscience and human rights activist Oyub Titiev continues.
  10. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic food policy inspires India to be a sustainable superpower
  11. Nordic Council of MinistersMilestone for Nordic-Baltic e-ID
  12. Counter BalanceEU bank urged to free itself from fossil fuels and take climate leadership

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Intercultural Dialogue PlatformRoundtable: Muslim Heresy and the Politics of Human Rights, Dr. Matthew J. Nelson
  2. Platform for Peace and JusticeTurkey suffering from the lack of the rule of law
  3. UNESDASoft Drinks Europe welcomes Tim Brett as its new president
  4. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic ministers take the lead in combatting climate change
  5. Counter BalanceEuropean Parliament takes incoherent steps on climate in future EU investments
  6. International Partnership For Human RightsKyrgyz authorities have to immediately release human rights defender Azimjon Askarov
  7. Nordic Council of MinistersSeminar on disability and user involvement
  8. Nordic Council of MinistersInternational appetite for Nordic food policies
  9. Nordic Council of MinistersNew Nordic Innovation House in Hong Kong
  10. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Region has chance to become world leader when it comes to start-ups
  11. Nordic Council of MinistersTheresa May: “We will not be turning our backs on the Nordic region”
  12. International Partnership for Human RightsOpen letter to Emmanuel Macron ahead of Uzbek president's visit

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us