- French privacy watchdog levied 100,000-euro penalty in March
- Challenge concerns scope of EU top court ruling on search link
Google has taken a fight against France’s privacy watchdog to the country’s highest administrative court, challenging a March decision to fine it 100,000 euros ($112,000) for failing to remove “right-to-be-forgotten” requests from global search results.
“As a matter of both law and principle, we disagree with this demand,” Kent Walker, Google’s senior vice president and general counsel said in a blog post Thursday. “We comply with the laws of the countries in which we operate. But if French law applies globally, how long will it be until other countries -- perhaps less open and democratic -- start demanding that their laws regulating information likewise have global reach?”
CNIL, the French data protection commission, levied the fine on Alphabet Inc.’s Google in March after a tussle that started with a 15-day ultimatum last year for the Mountain View, California-based company to comply with the order. The French probe was triggered by several complaints from people who wanted the search engine to delete search results that pointed to personal information about them. While Google removed links from its French ".fr" domain, it didn’t take them off the ".com" domain visible to European web users.
The European Union’s highest court in a precedent-setting ruling in May 2014 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a right to be forgotten -- allowing people to seek the deletion of links on search engines if the information was outdated or irrelevant.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 case provoked a furor, with Google creating a special panel to advise it on implementing the law. The group opposed applying the ruling beyond EU domains.
Google’s Walker said the company complies with the court ruling “in every country in the EU,” according to the blog post. “Across Europe we’ve now reviewed nearly 1.5 million webpages, delisting around 40 percent. In France alone, we’ve reviewed over 300,000 webpages, delisting nearly 50 percent.”
Google in March announced it would add geo-blocking technology to make it harder for users to find information, moving away from its practice of delisting links only on European domain names.
“CNIL’s latest order, however, requires us to go even further, applying the CNIL’s interpretation of French law to every version of Google Search globally,” Walker said in the statement. “This would mean removing links to content -- which may be perfectly legal locally -- from Australia (google.com.au) to Zambia (google.co.zm) and everywhere in between, including google.com.”
CNIL has said it received “hundreds of complaints following Google’s refusals.” The authority declined to comment on the appeal.
Google in July pushed back against the French regulator’s request, criticizing “CNIL’s assertion of global authority on this issue.”
The right-to-be-forgotten rules add to a growing list of challenges Google is facing in Europe. EU antitrust regulators last year escalated their four-year-old probe of the company, accusing the Internet giant in a statement of objections of abusing its dominance of the search-engine market.
In a separate probe into Android pacts with manufacturers, the EU sent a second formal antitrust complaint to Google last month, accusing it of striking restrictive contracts that require makers of tablets and phones to install its search and Web browser on new phones in a separate probe.