Last year the European Court of Justice established the so-called “right to be forgotten.” The European Union’s highest court imposed rules on search engines, including Google, forcing them to recognize the principle. Europeans who feel certain search results misrepresent them can ask Google to omit the results from future searches. Such censorship on data retrieval would never stand up in America, or so many observers theorized.
That view may soon be put to the test. French regulators now insist that all of Google’s sites, not simply the European versions, must omit these results in response to requests. If such a rule were enforced, an American conducting a search on Google.com, Buy Google Reviews whose servers are housed on American soil, may be denied access to a search result that would otherwise appear due to a complaint lodged in France – or Spain, or Germany.
The risk to the free flow of information is obvious. In a blog post, Google’s global privacy counsel, Peter Fleischer, wrote, “We believe that no one country should have the authority to control what content someone in a second country can access.” (1)
Google is pushing back against the French, which is heartening, though ultimately the dispute is likely to end up in the European courts where our First Amendment guarantees of free communication do not apply. If Google loses, the stage will be set for the next Google – one that will let Americans, and others living in less-regulated societies, see everything to which their country’s protections entitle them.
The all-American Google might be Google itself, if the company is willing to withdraw from most of Europe. The European Court of Justice specified in the original ruling that simply keeping servers off European soil won’t let a company off the hook where delinking is concerned; Google showed itself willing to do as much in mainland China rather than submit its search results to Chinese censorship. If Google is willing to forsake Europe entirely, it could perhaps preserve user trust and search dominance elsewhere. (Conceivably, the recently announced reorganization of Google as merely the dominant holding of a portfolio company called Alphabet could at least leave the firm’s other businesses free to operate overseas.)
If not, the new provider might be an upstart business, whose forte would be dispensing search results and other content under the latitude provided by the U.S. Constitution. Such content might or might not be available elsewhere. Countries like France would have to decide whether to emulate places like China and Iran by restricting information flowing in from outside their borders. Foreign advertisers and subscribers presumably would be free to buy the service, as long as their home governments didn’t effectively prevent them from paying for it. But the real draw would be for American users, who could be sure they were not subjected to other countries’ censorship when searching the Internet.