Nikita Richardson
September 22, 2015 10:08 am

Almost everyone who regularly uses the internet has something embarrassing online that they’d rather no one see. And yet, as the saying goes, “The internet never forgets.” 

But last year, the European Union established the “right to be forgotten” which require the world’s most prominent search engines (read: Google) and websites to basically erase content that is incorrect or harmful to the reputation of a person. One of the fiercest advocates for this law is France, which secured a major win this week when a French court ruled that Google, which handles 90% of search engine traffic in Europe, must apply the “right to be forgotten” law to all its search domains, and not just the search domains native to France.

In other words, if you, a French citizen, have an embarrassing photo you want removed from not only the local Google.fr domain but the global Google.com domain as well, Google must comply — or face a hefty €300,000 fine every time they don’t. Google, for their part, only wants the ruling to apply to websites in Europe.

France’s decision is a huge ruling for people concerned with maintaining control of their internet personae and their privacy, as well as victims of revenge porn (the practice of former partners sharing intimate pictures of their ex-girlfriends or boyfriends online without the latter’s consent).

In a statement, the Commission Nationale de l’Informatique et des Libertés (CNIL), the French privacy watchdog that decided the “right to be forgotten” ruling, rejected Google’s appeal to limit the ruling to European domains. CNIL said, “Contrary to what Google has stated, this decision does not show any willingness on the part of the CNIL to apply French law extraterritorially. It simply requests full observance of European legislation by non-European players offering their services in Europe.” 

Google obviously isn’t happy with the ruling and is appealing the decision. But what we see here is excellent news for many reasons, including, as mentioned, the ongoing fight against revenge porn. 

As The Guardian pointed out last year, “What victims of revenge porn really want most urgently is a remedy, not a prosecution . . . Whether you view [the right to be forgotten] as a vindication of basic rights to control our own personal data online, or a worrying trend for the public record online, it is an undoubted godsend to revenge porn victims.”

There are many other reasons why the “right to be forgotten” is important, most significantly is that it gives people more control over their own privacy and their own image. This ruling in France is undoubtedly a significant step in the right direction.

“Help! I saw my boyfriend’s Internet history and now I’m having major trust issues.”

There’s a wrong way to online date. I learned that the hard way.

[Image via Shutterstock]

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