In May 2024 the European Court of Justice (ECJ) ruled that under existing EU Data protection legislation, individuals can ask a search engine (not just Google) to remove search results about them that “appear to be inadequate, irrelevant or no longer relevant or excessive … in the light of the time that had elapsed.” This is true even if the information is factually accurate.
Known popularly as the “right to be forgotten”, the ruling has been a major headache to Google, who has to deal with a deluge of requests from individuals who want their past misdemeanours erased from Google search results.
Note that actual content is not removed from the internet, it’s just that search engines (most notably Google) no longer point to it.
Because the ruling only applies to the EU, until now it has been easy to find removed content simply by visiting a non-EU version of the Google search page (such as www.google.com). EU regulators (and France in particular), have been unhappy about this situation, and have pushed for the ban to apply globally.
This far Google has resisted such a move, quite reasonably arguing that France and the EU do not have global jurisdiction (an argument that France categorically rejected).
Google has now responded by proposing a partial solution – to delist removed links from global searches if it thinks the search is being made from inside the EU. This means that if someone in France visits www.google.com rather than www.google.fr, then they will not see any links that have been removed due to “right to be forgotten” requests.
“The ICO is aware that Google has proposed changing the way it carries out the delisting of search results. This revised approach would appear to address the concerns previously set out by the ICO on the scope of the requirement to delist.”
Although some have expressed surprise and disappointment at the proposal, however, it is a little more subversive than it first seems, and falls short of the French regulator’s demands. Delisted results are still available to non-EU citizens, and can be easily accessed by EU citizens who use a proxy or VPN service to geo-spoof their location.
It seems likely that the 3 percent of French Google users who actually bother to use international versions of the search engine will also be technologically savvy enough use VPN!
It is also possible to completely evade such censorship simply by using a search engine such as DuckDuckGo or StartPage, which not only return international results wherever you are, but also do not record or track your searches (as Google does).