A German court has given Google a hearty slap over its grudging response to "right to be forgotten" laws, telling it that not linking to information means exactly that: not linking to information.
The Higher Regional Court of Munich issued an injunction [PDF] against the search engine company, telling it not to forward takedown notices it receives to the Lumen database and then link to the resulting Lumen webpage in place of its original search result.
Right now, every time Google receives a takedown request, it automatically forwards it to Lumen and then replaces its original link with text like: "As a reaction to a legal request that was sent to Google, we have removed one search result. You can find further information at LumenDatabase.org."
It links to the relevant Lumen webpage, which not only provides details about who requested that the search engine link be removed, but also has a link to the original webpage that was complained about.
The end result of that approach is that it takes two clicks rather than one to reach a specific webpage – something that the court points out still enables people to find the information that Google had been told not to link to.
The approach taken by Google is seen as the company both standing up for free speech and giving the middle finger to European laws that enabled, against its fierce complaints, individuals and companies to tell Google to remove links to information that they feel is "unlawful, inaccurate, or outdated" by filling in a simple online form.
Before free speech advocates start shouting about pedophiles, murderers and tax dodgers getting away with it, it's worth digging into the particular details of this case.
The complainant is a German company whose name in a Google search associates it with fraud, with a "public prosecutor investigating." But the company was not being investigated for fraud – as in criminal fraud – but rather investment fraud. With the latter, there is no requirement for damage to have been done or any form of corporate deception. And so the company, not wishing to be erroneously connected with fraud as most people understand it, used Google's online form to ask for the search link to be removed.
Google did so, but sent the information to Lumen and then linked to its database entry. As a result, if someone is doing research on the company – a potential customer, for example – it is not only easy to find the fraud allegation but it could actually make someone more suspicious because the company clearly approached Google in an effort to get the information taken down.
It's also worth noting that the company approached Google and asked it to remove the link to Lumen before suing, and Google refused, stating that it gave a higher priority to transparency.
In short, the German court is not impressed with Google's approach and has told it so. Currently, Google is not in a position to appeal the injunction either, since it was decided in the case's preliminary stages. So it will have to wait until the main case is being decided. ®