Services & Software

Wikipedia's Jimmy Wales blasts ruling forcing Google to erase search results

Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales describes the European ruling as "wide-sweeping censorship" that "doesn't make sense."

Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales has hit out at a European ruling on the "right to be forgotten." Joi Ito/Wikimedia Commons

Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales has hit out at a new European ruling forcing Google to edit or erase search results, calling it "wide-sweeping censorship."

Speaking to the BBC, Wales described the European Union Court of Justice's decision on Tuesday as "one of the most wide-sweeping internet censorship rulings that I've ever seen."

The ruling enshrines the "right to be forgotten", which allows individuals to request the removal of links to irrelevant or incorrect information about themselves. The ruling means that instead of trying to get an offending article, photo or online posting removed by whoever published it, the subject of that article or posting can contact Google and ask for the posting to be removed from search results.

But Wales is sceptical about the practicality of the ruling. "If you really dig into it, it doesn't make a lot of sense," he said. Users of the Internet can "complain about something and just say it's irrelevant, and Google has to make some kind of a determination about that. That's a very hard and difficult thing for Google to do, particularly if Google is at risk of being held legally liable if it gets it wrong in some way."

"If they have to start coping with everybody who whines about a picture they posted last week, it's going to be very difficult for Google," he added.

The ruling is designed to protect the privacy of the individual. The case came to the top European court following hundreds of cases regarding the right to be forgotten in Spain, including a complaint by a man claiming his privacy was infringed by a notice related to the repossession of his house.

The right to be forgotten is meant to protect, for example, an individual wrongly accused of a crime. Reports of the allegations are posted online and stay there, hanging around accusingly even if the person is later acquitted. Under the new laws, the person could ask Google to edit or remove links to the allegations.

But the decision could also be abused by people who want to cover up their misdeeds or indiscretions -- especially if they're in a position to afford lawyers.

Google said the European Court's decision was "disappointing", and is now taking time to "analyse the implications." But Jimmy Wales doesn't see much of a future for the ruling: "I suspect this isn't going to stand for very long," he said.