Google To Censor US Search Site For European Users

Google To Censor US Search Site For European Users

By Emma Woollacott  2/10/2016 @ 4:02PM

Google is removing the loophole allowing European users to sidestep the ‘right to be forgotten’ ruling that censors their search results.

After the European Court of Justice ruled two years ago that people could ask for search results to be removed if they contained inaccurate or ‘outdated’ information, Google attempted to strike a compromise.

It complied with the order – but only for European versions of its website. This meant that European users wanting to see uncensored results have only to log on to to get the unedited version; and plenty do.

This state of affairs, as you might imagine, isn’t good enough for the European authorities, and in September last year the French data protection authority, CNIL, ordered the company to start removing offending content from its sites worldwide.

And while the initial fine was set at just €300,000 – a drop in the ocean for a company with annual revenues of about $66 billion – Google was told this could rise to an extraordinary 5% of global operating costs under new data protection legislation set to come in next year.

And now, says Reuters, the company’s come up with another compromise: to censor non-European domains, but only when they’re being accessed from the country where the right to be forgotten request has been made.

For example, if a British citizen made a successful removal request, nobody accessing Google search from the UK would be able to see the removed item, whichever national version of Google they used. Anybody searching the same domain from outside the EU, meanwhile, would see the full list of results.

The move seems almost designed to provoke a call to apply the new censorship system across the region as a whole, rather than on a country-by-country basis: if a German citizen can’t see a particular article on, the EU might argue, why should a Dutch one be allowed to?

And for any non-Europeans feeling a bit smug at this point – and, let’s face it, you’ve got every justification – this could end up being your problem too.  In the decentralised world of the internet today, there really is no logical distinction to be made between Google’s various national sites.

Either companies allow European users to see ‘prohibited’ stuff, or they don’t. After all, purveyors of hardcore porn or terrorist propaganda don’t get to ply their trade abroad free of interference, just because their activities are legal at home.

The logical implication of the ECJ ruling, it’s always been obvious, is that no EU citizen should be able to see ‘banned’ content, however they try to access it. It’s only ever been a question of just how far the EU thinks it can push its power.

While it’s been pretty forceful in getting its way over data protection issues, for example, it’s never – or not that I can think of – actually been forced to stop legal activity in one country just because it’s illegal elsewhere.

And if Google really did do what the right to be forgotten ruling implies, it would be sunk elsewhere in the world. Who would want to use a search engine in the US, for example, that censored results according to a foreign legislation’s rules?

Google would be forced to pull out of Europe altogether; and this is the point where Europeans would rise up in arms. Apart from journalists, most people in the region are currently pretty unaffected by the right to be forgotten – if they even know it exists, that is. But they’d certainly know all about it if Google – far and away the most popular search engine in Europe – suddenly disappeared.

Google and the EU, in short, have found themselves in something of a stand-off, and somebody needed to find a way out. This latest attempt to soothe matters is nothing short of ludicrous when looked at logically – but that probably doesn’t matter. If CNIL decides to accept Google’s olive branch, it could give both parties a face-saving way out; and, boy, do they need one.


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