Google has been struggling mightily and, some may say, admirably with the ECJ’s “right to be forgotten” ruling of a year ago. Just when it appears to have gotten things in hand, lo-and-behold another obstacle crops up. This time, the cause of their dismay is the French data authority, the CNIL. The French agency has raised the ante in requiring the search giant to de-list search result requests globally on Google.com, not just in Europe. This new wrinkle has Google fuming and defiant.
That stemmed from a ruling in May last year by the European Court of Justice that European residents can ask search engines, such as Google or Microsoft Corp’s Bing, to delete results that turn up under a search for their name when they are out of date, irrelevant or inflammatory, the so-called right to be forgotten. Google complied with the ruling and has since received more than a quarter of a million removal requests, according to its transparency report. It has accepted about 41 percent of them.
Google has been labouring dutifully to scrub search results on its European websites such as Google.de in Germany or Google.fr in France. Their rationale has been that nearly all the searches made from Europe are done through local versions of Google. So, it stands to reason they’d be miffed at suggestions that they required a broader approach. It should be noted here that Google and other major US tech companies have taken a jaundiced view of the EU’s possibly singling them out for sanctions in a jealous, anti-competitive way. We wrote about that situation recently.
In its blog post last week, the tech giant, used to the free-enterprise atmosphere in the U.S., recoiled at an arm of government such as the French insinuating itself into their company’s core business, bristling at the idea that such authority in one country could control what content someone in another country could access. “As a matter of principle, therefore, we respectfully disagree with the CNIL’s assertion of global authority on this issue and we have asked the CNIL to withdraw its formal notice,” said Peter Fleisher, Google’s global privacy counsel.
The CNIL has not backed down and has threatened fines for lack of compliance and contend it is too easy for Google to circumvent the mandate by simply switching from one version of Google to another- something it has not apparently done, however. At this juncture any financial sanction, however small, pales in comparison to the hubris of governments intruding on a business dealing with a trying issue. From Google’s perspective, it has bent over enough in reacting to the initial ECJ decision of a year ago, and that it would prompt further assaults on the company and a “race to the bottom where the Internet would only be as free as the last free place.”
Google and Governments are set for larger collisions
There is more at stake here than just bragging rights or simple matters of relations between corporations and governments. As is often the case with governments, their intrusions start as a drip before becoming a torrent. They chip away liberties, subtlely at first and before long they have gained control. This has been my argument with the FCC’s net neutrality ruling which classified the Internet as a utility. This is shaping up as something more than just a government making a decree. It bears the earmark of a vendetta against a successful private enterprise with vast repercussions for the digital public and privacy.