The Wikimedia Foundation, the parent organization behind Wikipedia, has filed a petition in support of Google in France regarding an ongoing dispute between French authorities and Google over its implementation of the so-called “right-to-be-forgotten” ruling.
To recap, the right-to-be-forgotten, or right to delist from search engines, was the result of a 2014 ruling by the Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU) that was designed to help individuals hide web pages that contain out-of-date, irrelevant, and damaging information about them. So those living in an EU country could ask Google and other search engine operators to remove webpages from European versions of search engines, including .co.uk, .fr, .nl, and .de.
However, a request made by France’s data protection regulator, the Commission Nationale de l’Informatique et des Libertes (CNIL), demanded that Google and other search engines go a step further by hiding pages from all Google Search domains, including Google.com. Google finally gave in — to a certain extent — when it agreed to restrict access to the delisted URL on all Google Search domains, with the provision that the restriction would only apply within the country of the person who requested the removal. But this wasn’t good enough — Google was fined $110,000 for not going far enough in complying with the right-to-be-forgotten ruling, something that the internet giant is currently in the midst of taking to France’s highest court.
Earlier today, the Wikimedia Foundation filed a request seeking permission to intervene in the case, asking that the Conseil d’État uphold Google’s appeal.
“We believe that Google should not be required under one country’s laws to remove lawful content from search results around the world,” explained Wikimedia’s legal counsel, Aeryn Palmer, in a statement.
As the body behind the world’s most recognizable online encyclopedia, Wikimedia’s interest in backing Google here stems from the fact that around half of Wikipedia’s page visits arrive via search engines. “Although the CNIL’s case is directed towards Google, the gradual disappearance of Wikimedia pages from Google search results around the world ultimately impacts the public’s ability to find the invaluable knowledge contained within the Wikimedia projects,” added Palmer.
This isn’t the first time Wikimedia — or other tech organizations, for that matter — have filed motions to intervene in support of Google. Indeed, Google is currently fighting a similar battle in Canada against a company that’s requesting the de-indexing of websites relating to one of its competitors that had fallen foul of the law. Companies such as eBay, Kickstarter, Foursquare, Dow Jones & Company, the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF), and the Wikimedia Foundation all came out in support of Google in that case.
While rivals such as Microsoft’s Bing are also expected to comply with the right-to-be-forgotten ruling, because it’s the world’s most popular search engine, Google will always be the first in legislators’ crosshairs. Whether Wikimedia’s intervention has any bearing on the outcome in France (or Canada) remains to be seen, but Google needs all the help it can get if it’s to avoid censoring webpages globally based on the ruling of a single court.
“No single nation should attempt to control what information the entire world may access,” added Palmer. “This case would fundamentally undermine the Wikimedia vision of a world where every single human being can freely share in the sum of all knowledge.”