Google has long had a belief that because it is ‘From The Internet’ regular laws, rules and regulations don’t apply to it. This week we reported that in France, Google tried, and failed, to use this argument to exempt itself from the EU’s Right To Be Forgotten laws, by removing links on google.fr yet keeping them on google.com.
This shell game was struck down by French courts, who will now, slowly, sanction Google should it fail to comply.
In Canada this week another court rejected Google’s ‘we’re from the Internet so laws don’t apply to us’ defense of a similar case.
A Canadian court rejected Google’s laughable claim that it can’t control its own search engine, instead concluding that the search giant can indeed control what does and doesn’t appear in its powerful search rankings.
The case, Equustek Solutions Inc. v. Google Inc., revolves around the de-listing of rogue websites from search results.
Equustek caught one of its distributors, Datalink, first rebadging Equustek’s products and then producing a copy that it called the GW1000. Despite a court ordering Datalink to stop selling the GW1000, Datalink has continued selling them under a variety of names.
Datalink sold these products online, where it relied on search result traffic to reach customers.
In 2012 Google voluntarily removed 345 URLs listing Datalink’s gear, at the behest of Equustek, who eventually obtained a court order that would have forced the move anyway.
Yet Google, despite removing the links, fought the order, then attempted to restrict it to Google.ca only – making the injunction worthless, just like it recently did in France.
The Canadians, jut like the French, didn’t appreciate Google’s smarmy shell game of removing the links one place and keeping them in another, so they ruled last year that Google should delist the Datalink sites across all Google domains.
Google appealed the ruling, enlisting the help of big media companies and an NGO it funds, the EFF, to argue that the court didn’t have any authority over Google, because the plaintiff was Canadian and, disingenuously, that Google is a “passive” operation.
While Google uses algorithms to determine which sites to show the ‘passive’ part is laughable, as Google is well known for taking “manual actions” to punish search results that are not caught by its algorithms yet are clearly gaming the system.
It just doesn’t like people to know about its manual ability because manual actions require people, which being expensive, cut into profit margins.
The judge had rejected the argument that Google was ‘passive’.
On Friday, Justice Harvey Groberman agreed with the earlier ruling.
The chambers judge carefully examined the evidence, and found that the injunction would not inconvenience Google in any material way, and that Google would not incur expense in complying with it. She also found that the granting of the injunction was the only practical way for the defendants’ websites to be made inaccessible.
The importance of freedom of expression should not be underestimated. As the Canadian Civil Liberties Association has said in its factum: ‘A nation’s treatment of freedom of expression is a core part of its self-determination, rooted in the nation’s historical and social context, and the ways in which its constitutional values (whether written or unwritten), norms and legal system have evolved.’ For that reason, courts should be very cautious in making orders that might place limits on expression in another country. Where there is a realistic possibility that an order with extraterritorial effect may offend another state’s core values, the order should not be made.
“In the case before us,” he went on, “there is no realistic assertion that the judge’s order will offend the sensibilities of any other nation. It has not been suggested that the order prohibiting the defendants from advertising wares that violate the intellectual property rights of the plaintiffs offends the core values of any nation. The order made against Google is a very limited ancillary order designed to ensure that the plaintiffs’ core rights are respected.”
What decision means that in Canada, the rights and interests of powerful global corporations don’t come before other rights, such as being able to conduct a lawful business, simply because a company says they’re ‘From The Internet.’