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France Gives Google 15 Days to Shape Up

For those of you keeping count, it’s now been 13 months since Europe’s “Right To Be Forgotten” went into effect. It’s also been 13 months since the EU decided Google isn’t doing enough to comply, and Google has continuously resisted pressure to do more. Only now, however, has the search engine been given a firm ultimatum—and a looming deadline.

The Tussle

The skirmish is over how global the RTBF is. Currently, if you believe a web page contains inaccurate, outdated or irrelevant information about you, you can request that Google stop showing it in the search results. That includes searches on local versions of Google serving the EU countries, like in France. But since RTBF is a EU law only, results are not removed from other Google sites around the world. That includes the US version,

This isn’t good enough for the EU, which wants search results expunged worldwide, even though that is an obvious overreach of their jurisdiction. The problem is that European users can still access non-European versions of Google, effectively bypassing the law. Google has made it harder to do this, but that isn’t enough for European regulators.

The Order

After months of back and forth, France has gotten fed up. On Friday the French regulation agency CNIL issued an order for Google to comply and extend RTBF worldwide. If Google does not comply within 15 days, they will face sanctions.

So how will Google respond? There is virtually no chance they’ll give in. Doing so would lower the value and usefulness of their search engine, and would set a terrible precedent. No one government can set rules for internet users in the rest of the world.

But that doesn’t mean they have to play hardball, at least yet. If Google ignores the deadline they could face fines of up to US $169,000, not a hefty sum for the world’s largest search engine. And they can challenge the sanctions in court as well. Assuming this is the way it goes, the 15 day deadline could take months to play out.

Still, it remains baffling that the EU is taking such a short-sighted approach. The idea of global overreach is so obviously flawed it’s almost quixotic. For example, what if the US passed a law stating that tampering with search results—selectively de-listing some pages—is illegal within US borders? Then Google would have two different government ordering it to do opposite things with its main domain.

Or, more poignant: what if a US law required that all global versions of Google show results tampering-free? Would the EU still think global edicts are a good idea?