In an effort to appease Europe's privacy regulators, Google is set to change how its search results are displayed for European users.
The American tech giant has stood in conflict with European officials on the issue of whether to allow the removal of search results pertaining to individuals, at their request, since the European Union’s Court of Justice decided in favor of the practice in 2014. This “right to be forgotten,” as it is known, has been championed by European privacy advocates, but Google says the practice could affect Internet users’ freedom.
The EU court’s ruling was made to protect “the fundamental rights and freedoms of natural persons (in particular the right to privacy) when personal data are processed, while removing obstacles to the free flow of such data,” according to the tribunal’s decision. Google, while in compliance with the regulation in Europe regarding data related to people that is “inadequate, irrelevant or no longer relevant, or excessive,” is fighting to avoid having to enforce the policy globally.
France's data protection authority, the Commission Nationale de l'informatique et des Libertés (CNIL), last year ordered Google to apply the EU court regulations to all of its search engine domains, not just on Google’s European pages. Google resisted the call for worldwide delisting, calling the request a “development that risks serious chilling effects on the web.”
“While the right to be forgotten may now be the law in Europe, it is not the law globally,” Peter Fleischer, Google’s Global Privacy Counsel, wrote in a 2015 blog post for the company.
“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,” Mr. Fleischer said. “We believe that no one country should have the authority to control what content someone in a second country can access.”
“As a matter of principle, therefore, we respectfully disagree with the CNIL’s assertion of global authority on this issue,” he wrote.
Since beginning to consider delisting European results in the wake of the Court of Justice directive, Google has been transparent regarding the process. The company maintains a record of the number of web addresses it has “forgotten” on its search engine in Europe, which indicates that 42.5 percent of the more than 1.3 million removal requests it has received were delisted.
While Google is still not considering the implementation of delisting requests worldwide, it will begin the practice of scrubbing search results that passed the removal review within the country that the removal request originated, regardless of which of its domains is used to process the search. So if a delisting request of French origin is approved, the affected link will not appear on any of Google's domains if searched within France. This means the results would not only be affected in searches on google.fr, but any of Google's pages including google.com.
Google will maintain the new policy by checking users’ IP addresses, which can usually be used to identify where people are accessing the Internet. The new scrubbing effort will only affect users in European Union member countries, so searches blocked on google.com or other domains in Europe will still remain accessible elsewhere.
A CNIL spokeswoman neither affirmed or decried Google's move, saying that the “Issue of territorial scope requires careful thought,” and that “These elements are currently the object of an inquiry by the services of the CNIL,” according to Reuters.