France fines Google for not being forgetful enough

Only applying the 'right to be forgotten' to searches on sites aimed at European users was not good enough

The French data protection authority has fined Google for failing to implement the so-called right to be forgotten as ordered.

Last year, the French National Commission on Computing and Liberty (CNIL) decided that requests to have personal information delisted from search results should apply to all Google properties, not just those in European domains.

Google had been removing results from searches performed on domains including google.co.uk and google.fr, but not from its main site, google.com, even though it is accessible from within the EU.

The CNIL could have fined Google up to €300,000 (US$336,000) for failing to comply with its ruling, but in the end ordered the company to pay just €100,000.

The Court of Justice of the European Union established the right to be forgotten, or delisted, in May 2014. The ruling allows people to ask search engines such as Google to hide certain links resulting from a search on their name.

The case began when Spaniard Mario Costeja González sought to erase traces online of a 1998 announcement in newspaper La Vanguardia of a court-ordered auction of his real estate to recover debts. The court said the newspaper report should remain online, but ordered Google to remove links to it from the results of searches for Costeja González's name. The idea was that references to embarrassing events or minor misdeeds could be made harder to find, but not completely erased.

However, Google's refusal to hide results in searches performed on google.com, even for users within the EU, thwarted the court's intentions.

The CNIL published details of the fine late Thursday, although the decision was taken on March 10. That same week, Google finally began removing affected results from google.com, a week after announcing its plans on its European public policy blog.

Google still hasn't gone as far as the CNIL would like. The privacy watchdog wants the company to remove affected search results worldwide. Instead, Google will hide search results across all its non-European properties, but only from users in the same country as the person requesting delisting.

Concretely, this means that Spaniards searching for the infamous auction announcement should no longer be able to find it on any Google site. Elsewhere in the EU, searchers using the default Google site for their country shouldn't see the search results, but if they use google.com or any other non-EU Google site, then they could find it. Outside the EU, the search results won't be filtered at all -- or at least, not as a result of the ruling on the right to be delisted.

Since the CJEU made its ruling, Google has received 407,673 requests for removal under the right to be delisted, relating to a total of 1,425,748 URLs. It has removed 42.6 percent of those from its search results.

French Internet users have been the keenest to cover up their past, filing 86,901 requests between them, resulting in the removal of 48.4 percent of the 286,163 URLs concerned.

Germany, the most populous country in the EU, generated the second-largest number of requests, followed by the U.K., Spain and Italy.

The right to be delisted is not the only reason Google is asked to hide search results. Between June 2014 and June 2015, governments around the world issued 6,990 removal requests relating to 60,439 items. The company has not yet published figures for the second half of 2015.

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