Google Refuses To Broaden 'Right To Be Forgotten'

Google is opposing a demand by European privacy regulators to broaden the "right to be forgotten" by censoring search results worldwide.

"We believe that no one country should have the authority to control what content someone in a second country can access," global privacy counsel Peter Fleischer writes today on the company's blog.

He adds that allowing one country to censor the Web internationally would result in a "race to the bottom."

"In the end, the Internet would only be as free as the world’s least free place," he writes, noting that content that is legal in one country might be illegal in another. "Thailand criminalizes some speech that is critical of its King, Turkey criminalizes some speech that is critical of Ataturk, and Russia outlaws some speech that is deemed to be 'gay propaganda.'"

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The move marks the latest development in Google's conflict with EU officials over privacy standards. Last year, the highest court in Europe ruled that Google and other search engines must allow residents of European countries to delete links to certain embarrassing information about themselves from search results.

The ruling empowers EU residents to ask Google to remove links to news articles, social media posts, and other material, but doesn't require Google to automatically grant those requests. Instead, Google is tasked with weighing people's rights to privacy against the public interest in the information.

The European court's ruling only affects search engines, and not the original source of the information. In some cases, Google has removed links to old news articles, but the original pieces are still available on sites like BBC.com and TheGuardian.com.

In June, France's data protection unit, CNIL, said Google must remove links from all of its results pages -- including Google.com in the U.S. -- and not just pages geared for European countries. The French authorities gave Google 15 days to comply or face the possibility of a $340,000 fine.

Fleischer says the company has asked CNIL to withdraw that notice. He adds that around 97% of French Web users access a European version of Google's search engine. "As a matter of principle," he writes, "we respectfully disagree with the CNIL's assertion of global authority on this issue."

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