Photographer: Krisztian Bocsi/Bloomberg

Google Faces French Ultimatum Over Right to Be Forgotten

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Google Inc. risks French fines after being handed a 15-day ultimatum to extend the so-called right to be forgotten to all its websites, including those outside the European Union.

France’s data protection regulator, CNIL, ordered the world’s most-used search engine to proceed with delistings of links across its network, irrespective of the domain name, according to a statement on Friday. CNIL said it received “hundreds of complaints following Google’s refusals.”

The order comes more than a year after a ruling by the EU’s highest court created a right to be forgotten, allowing people to seek the deletion of links on search engines if the information was outdated or irrelevant. The ruling created a furor, with Mountain View, California-based Google appointing a special panel to advise it on implementing the law. The panel opposed applying the ruling beyond EU domains.

If Google “doesn’t comply with the formal notice within the 15 days,” Isabelle Falque-Pierrotin, the president of CNIL “will be in position to nominate a rapporteur to draft a report recommending to the CNIL Select Committee to impose a sanction to the company,” the watchdog said.

“We’ve been working hard to strike the right balance in implementing the European court’s ruling, cooperating closely with data protection authorities,” Al Verney, a spokesman for Google in Brussels, said in an e-mailed statement. “The ruling focused on services directed to European users, and that’s the approach we are taking in complying with it.”

Links Removal

EU data protection chiefs, currently headed by Falque-Pierrotin, last year already urged Google to also remove links, when needed, from .com sites.

Google Chairman Eric Schmidt has argued that the EU court’s ruling in May 2014 -- in which it ordered search links tied to individuals cut when those people contend the material is irrelevant or outdated -- didn’t need to be extended to the U.S. site.

“It is easy circumventing the right to be forgotten by using the domain Google.com,” said Johannes Caspar, the Hamburg data protection commissioner. “Google should be compliant with the decision and fill the protection gap quickly.”

Google has removed 342,161, or 41.3 percent, of links that it has “fully processed,” according to a report on its website.

‘Right Balance’

The U.K.’s Information Commissioner’s Office said in a statement that its experience with removal requests “suggests that, for the most part, Google are getting the balance right between the protection of the individual’s privacy and the interest of internet users.”

The right-to-be-forgotten rules add to separate demands for curbs on Google’s market power being considered by lawmakers this week. EU antitrust regulators in April escalated their four-year-old probe into Google, sending the company a statement of objections accusing the Internet giant of abusing its dominance of the search-engine market.

The same day, the EU also started a new investigation into Google’s Android mobile-phone software.

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