Content Regulation / Censorship, Privacy, Data Protection and Retention, Defamation / Reputation
Hegglin v. Google
Closed Mixed Outcome
Global Freedom of Expression is an academic initiative and therefore, we encourage you to share and republish excerpts of our content so long as they are not used for commercial purposes and you respect the following policy:
Attribution, copyright, and license information for media used by Global Freedom of Expression is available on our Credits page.
The subsidiary, Google France of a parent company,Google Inc. is established in a European Member State, and acts in the capacity as the company’s representative in the Member State. When the activities between the parent and subsidiary companies are indivisible, the parent company may be held liable for any injunctions imposed on the subsidiary company. Thus, an injunction and a fine can be imposed if the relationship between the two is sufficiently clear.
The case began with Dan Shefet, a lawyer in Paris who after winning a defamation suit had sued Google France in August 2013 and obtained a court order requiring both Google France and Google Inc. to remove the defamatory URLs. However, Google only took them down from Google.fr while Google Inc. was unresponsive to subsequent requests for removal. Thus Shefet brought suit for enforcement of the injunction on a worldwide basis against Google France based on the ‘right to be forgotten’ as interpreted in the earlier Google Spain case.
In opposition to the claim brought, Google France submitted that firstly, it was not a data controller since it operated only to provide marketing and advertising services and not to perform any editorial actions or operate specific websites. Secondly, that the company liable in this case was actually Google Inc. and finally that the Tribunal did not have jurisdiction to order erasure measures beyond those related to the Google.fr search engine and intended for a French audience.
Vice President of the Tribunal de Grand Instance Anne Desmure wrote the injunction order. The Tribunal found that Google Inc. operated the Google.fr search engine and Google France was a wholly-owned subsidiary of Google Inc. It was held that Google France works to promote advertising space and increase the profitability of Google Inc. Therefore, the Tribunal held, the principles enshrined in the 1995 European Data Protection Directive apply to Google France. The Tribunal, quoting the ECJ May 2014 Google Spain case <<Les activités de l’exploitant du moteur de recherche et celles de son établissement situeé dans l’Etat membre concerné sont indissociablement liées>>, meaning that a subsidiary of Google Inc. established in a European Member State acts as the company’s representative in the Member State, because the activities of parent and subsidiary are indivisibly linked.
Ultimately the Tribunal held that the claims could not be limited only to links returned on Google.fr because Google France did not and could not demonstrate that from within France it was not possible to use other domains of Google’s search engine.
Decision Direction indicates whether the decision expands or contracts expression based on an analysis of the case.
This case, depending on whether one is looking at the outcome from the point of view of the plaintiffs or Google can be considered as either expanding or contracting expression. From the perspective individual it increase the dominion they may exert over the expression of their reputation, but online facilitators of expression such as Google may consider the fact that the case may pave the way for European courts to impose orders on online properties beyond their own borders as far reaching.
Global Perspective demonstrates how the court’s decision was influenced by standards from one or many regions.
Case significance refers to how influential the case is and how its significance changes over time.
Let us know if you notice errors or if the case analysis needs revision.