Google forced to e-forget a company worldwide

Filed Under: Featured, Google, Law & order

Images of whack a mole and Canadian flag, courtesy of ShutterstockForcing Google to develop amnesia is turning out to be contagious.

Likely inspired by Europeans winning the right to be forgotten in Google search results last month, a Canadian court has ruled that Google has to remove search results for a Canadian company's competitor, not just in Canada but around the world.

The Supreme Court of British Columbia ruled on 13 June that Google had two weeks to forget the websites of a handful of companies with "Datalink" in their names.

The plaintiff in the case, Equustek Solutions Inc., manufactures networking devices that allow different manufacturers' complex industrial equipment to talk to each other.

Equustek maintains that the defendants started out as distributors for its products, but conspired with one of its former engineers and others, ripped off trade secrets and then went off to design and manufacture a competing product, the GW1000.

For years, Equustek says it's been playing Whack-A-Mole.

Since 2012, the company's given Google specific URLs - 345 in all - from which the defendants were selling the GW1000 in violation of court order.

But as soon as Google voluntarily blocked those sites, a whole host of new websites would be generated automatically and would move up the search rankings to take the place of the de-indexed sites.

Of course, questions of jurisdiction are always knotty, but even more so in the age of the internet, the BC court pointed out:

The defendants' blocked websites appear when searches are conducted from any country other than Canada, or when a search is conducted within Canada using a Google website other than www.google.ca.

Canada doesn't have jurisdiction over anything but Canadian searches, Google argued.

But just stopping the GW1000 from showing up in .ca searches wouldn't put a dent in the infringing products appearing in search results, particularly given that most of the product sales take place internationally.

When Google argued that Canadian law couldn't be applied to the entire world, the court responded by citing British Columbia's Law and Equity Act, which grants broad power for a court to issue injunctions when it's "just or convenient that the order should be made."

Google also tried to argue against the injunction on the basis of it amounting to censorship. The court responded that there are already entire categories of content that get censored, such as child abuse imagery.

Will this be the first of a new wave of requests for company website take-downs?

It wouldn't be surprising if it were. As it is, Google reluctantly supplied Europeans with a "right to be forgotten form" in May.

By the end of the first day of that form going live, 12,000 Europeans had requested that their pasts be wiped out of Google search results, and the rate of requests was coming in steady at a pace of about 10,000 per day for the first few days.

Does the right of a company to squash its competitors' websites signal a welcome new way to enforce copyright law? Does it entail creeping censorship? Both?

Image of whack a mole-man and Canadian flag courtesy of Shutterstock.

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13 Responses to Google forced to e-forget a company worldwide

  1. Bart B. · 95 days ago

    "a Canadian company's competitor" that seems to me like a very misleading choice of words to me. It implies this is about protectionism or something like that, rather than a company that has been found guilty and has been using the internet to evade the court's rulings against it.

  2. Sounds kind of dodgy. Either this companies patents are being violated, in which case there are surely mechanisms to deal with violated patents, or they're not. In which case, just because company A is used to having a cosey little monopoly, the law shouldn't be there to guarantee it.

    • Mick · 95 days ago

      I completely agree; this should be a supplementary action to support the law suit taken out by the offended company. Maybe it is, but this wasn't made clear in the article.

  3. Guy · 95 days ago

    It's interesting that Canada is trying censor Google data far more broadly than even China ever tried to, let alone Europe.

    It's hard to believe that Canada could enforce its court rulings worldwide, but I'm sure they could make life difficult for Google inside Canada.

    From Canada's point of view, though, is Google really the target that they should be going after?

    And from Google's point of view, their voluntary, worldwide co-operation would have saved them from creating some unpleasant legal precedent.

    The answer is? Don't be evil. Don't let it get as far as the courts.

  4. Spryte · 95 days ago

    I doubt this is over. There is still the Supreme Court of Canada where Google can appealthe decision.

  5. These judges should learn I.T., they're still in the XIX century,

  6. rl · 95 days ago

    Open floodgates and goodbye internet as we know it unless this is stopped pretty soon. Google will have so much work it will start losing money with the extra admin costs as well. This is stupidity and can only end in copyright and patents being totally worthless and meaningless

  7. Laurence Marks · 94 days ago

    The European option to forget individual information is troubling. Our social club uses Google results (and other sources) to in a background check of applicants. We've rejected felons, arsonists, drug users, sex offenders, and child molesters. Some of the information was not available through official sources.

    If the US follows this misguided path, goodbye background checks.

    • Paul Ducklin · 94 days ago

      Aren't you worried by the possibility that some of these "unofficial" sources might be incorrect?

      • Wojo · 92 days ago

        Behold, the problem. Anyone who 'opposes' right to be forgotten under some squealing pretext of 'security' or 'censorship' is someone who could have their mind changed in 10 seconds when they themselves are subject to heinous, libelous internet information.

  8. Jim · 94 days ago

    There seems to be a few things the court has "forgotten".

    First, Google is not the only search engine in the world. Why are they unfairly singled out?

    Second, Canada can't impose its will on the world.

    Third, what if it is only in Canadian law that the offense occurred? For example, some medicinal drugs are manufactured in Canada much more cheaply than the US companies that invented them, because the US companies' patents are honored for a shorter time in Canada.

    I'm sorry, but the court in this case is totally out of line.

    • Just Another Joe · 93 days ago

      "because the US companies' patents are honored for a shorter time in Canada. "

      That's not the reason. Canada's government subsidizes the costs of medications. So it's Canadian's tax payers that are then subsidizing the cost of medications to US citizens.

  9. goat · 88 days ago

    While on paper, a court ruling against a certain search result may seem well-intentioned, as anyone who knows about law can tell you, it's just a matter of time before corporations finds a way to exploit it for financial gain.

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About the author

I've been writing about technology, careers, science and health since 1995. I rose to the lofty heights of Executive Editor for eWEEK, popped out with the 2008 crash, joined the freelancer economy, and am still writing for my beloved peeps at places like Sophos's Naked Security, CIO Mag, ComputerWorld, PC Mag, IT Expert Voice, Software Quality Connection, Time, and the US and British editions of HP's Input/Output. I respond to cash and spicy sites, so don't be shy.