Google has scrubbed 50 links to Wikipedia, thanks to the ‘right to be forgotten’ law

The Wikimedia Foundation is taking aim at Europe's "right to be forgotten" law — the privacy standard that requires search engines to delete links to content that other users believe is about them and is "inadequate, irrelevant or no longer relevant, or excessive."

The nonprofit behind Wikipedia said Wednesday that it has received five notices from Google in the last week saying its content has been scrubbed from European search results. The notices affect more than 50 links and Web pages on Wikipedia. That's far more than the one Wikipedia entry that's been reportedly affected by the law to date.

Wikipedia co-founder Jimmy Wales, speaking to reporters Wednesday in London, vowed to post online all of the right-to-be-forgotten notices they've received. The list of notices and affected content is available here).

Wikipedia doesn't have much say over what content gets de-listed. What's been removed may never even come to light if search engines don't disclose the requests to Wikipedia, said Geoff Brigham, the Wikimedia Foundation's (WMF) general counsel.

"Google's reporting to us because it's doing the right thing," said Brigham in an interview. "But it's not clear other search companies will be doing the right thing. We may report that we've received 100 notices when in fact, we may have been delinked by other services 10,000, 20,000 times."

Google has strongly protested the European court decision that requires the company to take down links to certain pages if a member of the public demands it. Google has so far fielded over 91,000 de-listing requests, mostly from French and German Internet users.

Asked what information from his own personal life he'd want to be forgotten, Wales said he'd rather it be kept in the public record.

"I would never, ever use any kind of legal process like this to try and suppress the truth," said Wales. "I think it’s deeply immoral.”

WMF is vowing to disclose the number of right-to-be-forgotten notices it receives in a transparency report, the first of which is being unveiled today. An early copy of the report obtained by the Washington Post does not reflect the five notices WMF has recently received. It does, however, show the number of government requests for user data that WMF has received dating back to 2012. As with other tech firms, the report also shows how many times WMF has been asked to take down or modify content itself — due to copyright complaints, defamation claims or other reasons.

In the first half of 2014, WMF received 10 requests for user data and 100 content requests. Of those, it complied with one user data request and four content requests (which were all associated with copyright complaints).

If that sounds low to you, it's part of a pattern. WMF gets remarkably few requests in the two years since it started compiling the data. Wikipedia is the world's fifth-biggest Web site. How is it not subject to more demands?

The secret may have to do with Wikipedia's community, according to Brigham. The process of writing a wiki involves collaboration across a number of individuals; as a result, any concerns about inaccurate or improperly used information get resolved at the editing level. Beyond that are a legion of what WMF calls "wikilawyers."

"These are members of our community that care about the law and care about legitimate concerns about content," said Brigham.

The result is that takedown requests hardly ever make it to WMF's legal desk. WMF also retains little information about individual users beyond IP addresses, cookies and e-mail addresses, making it hard to glean much from a user data request, according to the organization.

For more of the results, including WMF's full dataset, click here or examine the charts below.

Karla Adam contributed to this report.

Brian Fung covers technology for The Washington Post.
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