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French regulator says Google must expand 'right to be forgotten' to all Google sites

Google's European legal woes continue

Adam Berry/Getty Images

France's data protection regulator has rejected Google's appeal to a May order compelling the search giant to expand Europe's "right to be forgotten" ruling to every one of its websites worldwide, including Google.com. Google has been complying with requests to remove search results only within the version of its search engine accessible within the country from which the request came, such as google.fr for France. Google now faces both fines as well as the possibility of seeing the case kicked to the broader European level. Lawmakers could then establish a broader scope of the controversial privacy concept that lets European citizens ask Google to remove unfavorable search results.

France’s Commission Nationale de l’Informatique et des Libertés, known as CNIL, ruled in June that Google must expand its takedown practices to all domain names, including those in countries with stronger protections around freedom of speech. CNIL gave Google 15 days to begin removing search results from all of its domain names or face sanctions, which carry with them a relatively light initial penalty of up to €150,000 for one of the world's most powerful corporations. Yet any sanction can be appealed in French court and sent to a higher European level, ensuring a drawn-out legal battle with uncertain consequences.

The right to be forgotten was first established in 2014 by the European Union’s Court of Justice. The ensuing legal back-and-forth between Google and European privacy regulators has raised issues about internet censorship and the ability to rewrite history, as well as whether European concepts of privacy supersede singular countries' laws around freedom of expression.

Expanding the right to be forgotten threatens the internet, says Google

Google revealed in July of 2014 that around half of all right to be forgotten requests were coming from France, Germany, and the UK, with the number of French requests topping the list at 17,500. Google also accidentally revealed information in a July 2015 transparency report indicating that less than 5 percent of the nearly 220,000 requests up until that point came from criminals, politicians, and public figures attempting to scrub clean their pasts. The remainder of takedown requests were for personal information such as names and addresses.

Google first appealed CNIL's ruling in July, stating at the time that expanding the right to be forgotten to other domain names would give authoritarian governments the authority to censor information on the Internet at a global scale. "We’ve worked hard to implement the right to be forgotten ruling thoughtfully and comprehensively in Europe, and we’ll continue to do so," a Google spokesperson told The Verge today. "But as a matter of principle, we respectfully disagree with the idea that a single national data protection authority should determine which webpages people in other countries can access via search engines."

CNIL, in rejecting the appeal, says it has no interest in helping other countries' governments misuse the right to be forgotten. Rather, CNIL and other regulators have found that even after search results are successfully removed, they are still easily located by switching to the version of Google accessible in another country.