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France's privacy agency orders Google to remove search results worldwide on request

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PARIS — France's data privacy agency ordered Google to remove search results worldwide upon request, giving the company two weeks to apply the "right to be forgotten" globally.

The order Friday from CNIL comes more than a year after Europe's highest court ruled that people have the right to control what appears when their name is searched online.

So far, Google says it has received more than 268,000 requests to remove URLs after the May 2014 decision. French citizens lead the European Union in requests, with more than 55,000.

Not all requests are granted — public figures cannot erase a sordid episode reported in the media while criminal convictions can remain in place. According to the company, Facebook accounted for the largest contingent of deleted URLs.

But switching to a non-European Google domain can pull up the deleted links in a matter of clicks.

PHOTO: FILE - In this Dec. 6, 2011 file photo, the Google logo is seen on the carpet at Google France offices before its inauguration, in Paris, France. France's data privacy agency ordered Google to remove search results worldwide upon request, giving the company two weeks to apply the "right to be forgotten" globally. The order Friday from CNIL comes more than a year after Europe's highest court ruled that people have the right to control what appears when their name is searched online.(AP Photo/Jacques Brinon, Pool, File)
FILE - In this Dec. 6, 2011 file photo, the Google logo is seen on the carpet at Google France offices before its inauguration, in Paris, France. France's data privacy agency ordered Google to remove search results worldwide upon request, giving the company two weeks to apply the "right to be forgotten" globally. The order Friday from CNIL comes more than a year after Europe's highest court ruled that people have the right to control what appears when their name is searched online.(AP Photo/Jacques Brinon, Pool, File)

Isabelle Falque-Pierrotin, president of CNIL, said the order to remove search results globally "is only telling international companies that operate in Europe that they must conform to European law."

Google said it was working to comply with EU decision, but did not say whether it would apply the French order.

"The ruling focused on services directed to European users, and that's the approach we are taking in complying with it," the company said in a statement.

Falque-Pierrotin specified that CNIL's order only applied to French citizens, although she said the other European data protection agencies had agreed with the French position "to give full effect to the court ruling."

Christopher Mesnooh, a Paris-based American lawyer specializing in trans-Atlantic business law, said France was among the first countries to pass laws protecting privacy and has repeatedly taken on American tech giants it feels are in violation. The latest order is no exception.

"If your name is Jacques and you live in France you would probably think it's normal and natural that it be taken down in .com as well as .fr," Mesnooh said. "There's a logic to it."

If Google doesn't comply by the deadline, it faces a relatively insignificant maximum fine of 150,000 euros ($167,000) or, more visibly, a requirement to put a banner on its home page saying it had failed to follow French law.

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