Google must comply with requests to remove search results from all international versions of its Search tool if a country’s authorities believe such a measure necessary. The new rule is the result of a ruling from Canada’s Supreme Court, springing from a 2012 case involving Equustek Solutions Inc, who asked Google to remove some results concerning Datalink Technologies Gateways, a distributor for Equustek products that had allegedly labeled and sold such products as its own, then went on to use trade secrets to create a competing product. Google originally complied with the order on the Canadian version of its search engine, but because it was still easy for customers all over the world to find and buy unlawful Datalink products, authorities ordered Google to remove those results worldwide.
The move elicited an appeal from Google on free expression grounds, saying that it could set a precedent for internet censorship. In response, the courts acknowledged the risk, but contended that free expression on the internet did not equate to aiding in the advertising and sale of unlawful goods. The case eventually went all the way to the Supreme Court of British Columbia, where it was eventually ruled that countries could have Google remove results worldwide in cases like this one, where only removing them locally would be ultimately ineffective.
The ruling has drawn criticism along the same lines as Google’s initial appeal. Internet free expression advocates such as Canada’s own OpenMedia have stated concerns that such a move could not only facilitate censorship, but cause beneficial, legal content to lose exposure and all but disappear from the web due to a foreign entity putting out a far-reaching order. This could indeed become the case in instances where copyright or fair use laws, and could also affect future “right to be forgotten” takedown requests. In this particular case, Google cannot appeal the Supreme Court’s ruling, and would have to produce evidence that it violates free expression laws in another country in order to have the orders altered in any way, even if it’s just an exception for a single country. Google is one of the world’s most popular search engines, which means that anything removed from its search results would face a severe drop in traffic.