French 'right to be forgotten' decision takes link removal beyond Europe

One man applies pressure on Google to remove links to a defamatory article worldwide.
Written by Liam Tung, Contributing Writer

A recent decision by a French court that relied on the European 'right to be forgotten' has landed Google's subsidiary there with a €1,000 per day fine unless it stops linking to a defamatory article. 

The 'right to be forgotten', which came into effect this May following a ruling by the European Court of Justice, may have a bigger impact on international firms than simply encouraging search engines to stop returning outdated links in their results. 

The judgement, handed down in September by the Paris Tribunal de Grande Instance, has left Google France facing a €1,000 a day fine and may pave the way for European courts to impose orders on online properties beyond their own borders. In this case, Google's French subsidiary has been fined for the actions of its US parent company. 

The case involved Dan Shefet, a lawyer who sued Google in France last August to counter a "defamation campaign" aimed at his firm, which he details here. He won a court order for Google to remove certain URLs on a worldwide basis, however, the search company only took them down from google.fr and, according to Shefet, ignored subsequent demands based on that order. 

Shefet told The Guardian that the court's decision means that people in any EU country may obtain an injunction against their local Google subsidiary if they want a result that can only be completed by the parent company.

Previously, if the complainant wanted a result removed from google.com, they would need to sue Google in the US since Google Inc controls the search engine worldwide. "Until now a subsidiary could not be legally forced under the threat of daily penalties to deliver a result which was beyond its control," Shefet is quoted as saying. 

According to The Guardian, in issuing Google France the fine, the Paris court relied on one aspect of the ECJ ruling which stated that "the activities of the operator of the search engine and those of its establishment situated in the member state concerned are inextricably linked".

A Google spokesperson told ZDNet the company is considering its options.

"This was initially a defamation case and it began before the CJEU ruling on the 'right to be forgotten'. We are reviewing the ruling and considering our options. More broadly, the 'right to be forgotten' raises some difficult issues and so we're seeking advice - both from data protection authorities and via our advisory council - on the principles we should apply when making these difficult decisions," the spokesperson said.

The French decision highlights some of the uncertainty around how Google implements the ECJ's 'right to be forgotten' ruling. 

Currently when Google accepts a request by a person to edit certain results based on searches for that person's name, it only removes the link on its European domains, such as google.co.uk or google.es, while leaving results on google.com unaltered.

According to Google's latest transparency report statistics, it's evaluated over 168,000 requests concerning 572,000 URLs and has agreed to remove 58 percent of the URLs from its European domains. If individuals are unsatisfied with Google's response, they can take the matter to the local data protection authority. 

To appease different European data protection authorities, Google decided early on to apply accepted removals to all its European domains but so far hasn't acquiesced to demands that it apply them to google.com.

Read more on this story

Editorial standards