Google is set to restrict search terms to a link to a Wikipedia article, in the first request under Europe's controversial new "right to be forgotten" legislation to affect the 110m-page encyclopaedia.
The identity of the individual requesting a change to Google's search results has not been disclosed and may never be known, but it is understood the request will be put into effect within days. Google and other search engines can only remove the link – as with other "right to be forgotten" requests, the web page itself will remain on Wikipedia.
In May, the European Court of Justice ruled that citizens could ask search engines to remove particular links from results for a search made under their name, if the material was deemed to be out of date, no longer relevant or excessive.
Google has already begun to implement the ruling, with tens of thousands of links removed from its European search results to sites ranging from the BBC to the Daily Express. Among the data now "hidden" from Google is an article about the 2009 Muslim conversion of Adam Osborne, brother of the chancellor, George Osborne.
Jimmy Wales, who co-founded Wikipedia in 2001 and has overseen its transformation into the sixth most visited site on the internet, told the Observer: "It's completely insane and it needs to be fixed."
Wales is one of 10 members of an advisory council formed by Google to decide how to handle takedown requests. The council will travel Europe, with a first hearing scheduled in Madrid on 9 September, before writing guidance for Google and other search engines, such as Microsoft's Bing, on implementing the new law.
It was a test case brought by a Spaniard called Mario Costeja González, who wanted a 1998 article about his home being repossessed removed from search results, that triggered the change in legislation.
"In the case of truthful, non-defamatory information obtained legally, I think there is no possibility of any defensible 'right' to censor what other people are saying," Wales has said. "You do not have a right to use the law to prevent Wikipedia editors from writing truthful information, nor do you have a right to use the law to prevent Google from publishing truthful information. Wikipedia can and should work hard to do a good job, just as Google can and should work hard to do a good job."
On Thursday, Google revealed that France, with 17,500 requests, had made more demands for changes to search results than any other European nation. Germany had made 16,500 requests, and 12,000 requests originated in the UK. Some 8,000 requests came from Spain, 7,500 from Italy, and 5,500 from the Netherlands.
By 18 July, Google had received 91,000 takedown requests in total, relating to 300,000 pages. Its privacy counsel, Peter Fleischer, revealed it had refused around 32% of them, asked for more information on 15%, and removed 53%.
The European ruling is not intended to tackle incorrect information, with many of the links removed so far being to news articles whose accuracy has not been challenged. Wikipedia's open editing system means any member of the public can request a change to articles, so long as any new claims are underpinned by independent sources.
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