France Wants Google To Target French Citizens Worldwide & Censor Their Search Results
The French data privacy regulator CNIL wants Google to somehow identify French citizens wherever they are in the world and block them from seeing material removed under the Right To Be Forgotten.
The clock is ticking for Google to comply with a demand by the French privacy regulator CNIL to implement Right To Be Forgotten censorship on sites beyond Google France. Providing that solution will be tough, since CNIL has told Search Engine Land that censorship needs to somehow be done for any French citizen, no matter where in the world they are.
Last Friday, CNIL gave Google 15 days to implement Right To Be Forgotten removals globally, so we’re at the halfway mark. As I explained in my How The Myth Of Google Censorship Was Busted By The EU & Canada analysis story, Google has two options to do this:
Easy Solution: French & EU Censorship
Currently, Google only implements Right To Be Forgotten censorship on versions of its search engine for particular countries, such as Google France or Google UK. If someone goes to Google.com or a non-EU version of Google (such as Google Canada), even if they are within France and the EU, they will get uncensored results.
Google could make it so that everyone in France and the EU gets censored results, regardless of what version of Google they use. This is a relatively easy change to make, hence me calling it the “easy solution.” Google would simply look at where a particular request is coming from. If a person is identified as being in the EU (such as by using their IP address), they’d get censored results.
Hard Solution: Worldwide Censorship
Another solution would be for Google to drop Right To Be Forgotten material from all versions of Google for all users worldwide. No matter what country you were in, you wouldn’t be able to get the material.
I call this the “hard solution” not because it’s technically difficult. It’s not. Google could easily remove such content worldwide. It already does so for content deemed to be violating US copyright laws. It’s hard because it opens a Pandora’s Box where any country could potentially get material removed globally for people outside its borders.
For example, Russia is poised to pass its own Right To Be Forgotten law. Anyone, including public figures, could say they want material removed without the restrictions they currently face under the EU guidelines. Google would then have to remove that material not just in Russia but worldwide. After all, if it’s going to do so for the EU, Google would have little argument not to do for any country.
France Wants Harder Solution: Censor For French Citizens Everywhere
Over the past week, I’ve been trying to learn which solution France wants, the easy or hard one. It turns out that CNIL wants a more difficult solution. It wants Google to figure out who is a French citizen and censor for them regardless of where they are.
It took a few email exchanges with a CNIL spokesperson to get this answer. Twice, when I asked about which technical solution CNIL wanted, I was told simply that Google should censor (CNIL seems to prefer “delist”) content for all versions of Google. One exchange suggested this was as easy as pushing a button:
If you are French citizen and that you have received a positive answer from Google to be delisted, than CNIL asks Google to apply the delisting to all extensions. It is just a question of pressing the right button for Google. it has nothing to do with technical obstacles. Neither it has to do with censor.
That’s the response I got, which isn’t in perfect English but believe me, it’s far better than my French. I went back for a third time, explaining again that Google has two buttons it could push. From my email to CNIL:
One button censors on all Google domains only for those physically in France.
The other button censors on all Google domains for everyone around the entire world.
Which button does the CNIL want pushed?
The response was for Google to effectively create a third button that just targets people who are French citizens:
So the answer would be: “One button censors on all Google domains only for those physically in France” + French living abroad
We are today in globalized world and there are French working in Chile having their professional reputation online only on non-EU extensions. They should have the right to see the page delisted if their request fulfills the G29’s criteria.
Targeting Only French People Is Difficult
I’m struggling to figure out an easy way for Google to just target French people regardless of where they are in the world. In fact, it’s a pretty strange request for an agency tasked with regulating privacy to make. To know someone is a French citizen, you need ways to track and identify them. A privacy regulator wanting Google to track people more closely? That’s odd.
I see three options that Google has:
Censor Registered Users: If someone is signed-in to Google, they may have indicated their country of residence. That’s not the same as country of citizenship. But Google could use that as a proxy to try and censor French citizens wherever they are. If you’re French and signed into Google, then Google could use that to filter your results regardless of where you are in the world.
Censor Based On Language: Google potentially could look at the language someone is searching in to censor. If you search in French, you’d get censored results. But that also means French speakers in Canada and elsewhere would get censored results. It also would be very difficult when dealing with English results, even with the differences between UK and non-UK English.
Waiting For Next Steps & More
I’m hoping to get more follow-up from CNIL about how exactly it thinks Google could target only French citizens worldwide. If I hear more, I’ll update.
I’ve also asked Google to respond. So far, the company has said little about how it might meet the latest censorship demand, giving this statement last week:
We’ve been working hard to strike the right balance in implementing the European Court’s ruling, co-operating closely with data protection authorities. The ruling focused on services directed to European users, and that’s the approach we are taking in complying with it.
Google has had months to contemplate how to deal with this censorship demand. France and other countries have been making noises for that long about not being happy that censorship was only happening on EU-specific versions of Google.
I’d have expected at this point for Google to have had some detailed discussions with privacy regulators in the EU about the difficulty and issues in implementing censorship worldwide for people who are not EU citizens. But when the CNIL wants a “one button” solution that targets only French people worldwide, it sounds like no one has really talked substantially about this. That’s alarming.