When Google removes a search result, it doesn't always mean the underlying web page vanishes too.
Photograph by Michael Gottschalk — Photothek via Getty Images
By Jeff John Roberts
March 7, 2016

Google is expanding the number of websites it will censor under Europe’s controversial “right to be forgotten” law, which lets EU citizens demand the search engine remove results if they are outdated or irrelevant.

As the company explained in a blog post Friday, Google will close a loophole that currently allows people in a European country to view search results that had otherwise been deleted under the “right to be forgotten” (Google prefers the term “right to be delinked”).

The existing loophole, which will be closed this week, allows EU citizens to see the censored search results when they search on the main Google site (google.com) instead of a national version of the site (such as google.fr).

Under the new policy, Google will use geo-location to ensure residents located in a given EU country can’t see the search results on any version of the site, even as those outside the country can see them.

To give an example, if someone named Pierre Pepin in Paris ordered Google to remove search results about him, no one in France could get those results—even if they used Google.com. Meanwhile, people outside France could use Google.com to find those search links about Pierre. (Search Engine Land has a few more specifics about just how it works.)

The new policy, which Google hinted at last month, is unlikely to have many practical effects. The reason is that the vast majority of Google searches outside the United States take place on a national version of the site, not on Google.com.

But the case still has symbolic importance as Google tangles with national governments over how far local censorship orders should extend. In Canada, for instance, the country’s Supreme Court is taking up a case in which a provincial judge ordered Google to delete listings on a worldwide basis—if such a ruling holds, it could embolden judges in other countries to make similar extraterritorial demands.

The bottom line is that the sort of geo-fencing that Google will use in Europe could provide a model for national censorship in other countries.

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