European court decision punches holes in free knowledge

A recent European Court of Justice (ECJ) decision is undermining the world’s ability to freely access accurate and verifiable records about individuals and events. The impact on Wikipedia is direct and critical.

In Google Spain v. AEPD and Mario Costeja González, the ECJ ordered Google to remove links to a 1998 newspaper announcement of a real estate auction connected to a Spanish citizen’s debt.[1] That decision represents a crude implementation of the “right to be forgotten”—the idea that people may demand to have truthful information about themselves selectively removed from the published public record, or at least made more difficult to find.

In doing so, the European court abandoned its responsibility to protect one of the most important and universal rights: the right to seek, receive, and impart information.

As a consequence, accurate search results are vanishing in Europe with no public explanation, no real proof, no judicial review, and no appeals process. The result is an internet riddled with memory holes—places where inconvenient information simply disappears.

As of today the Wikimedia Foundation has received multiple notices of intent to remove certain Wikipedia content from European search results. To date, the notices would affect more than 50 links directing readers to Wikipedia sites.

The decision does not mandate that search engines disclose link censorship. We appreciate that some companies share our commitment to transparency and are providing public notice. This disclosure is essential for understanding the ruling’s negative impacts on all available knowledge.

The WMF will stand by its commitment to build the sum of all human knowledge through the protection of all of its sources. We will be posting notices for each indefinite removal of Wikipedia search results.

Lila TretikovExecutive Director, Wikimedia Foundation

[1] The decision is here:

Categories: Legal
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9 Comments on European court decision punches holes in free knowledge

Konrad 1 year

I am quite unhappy with this position. The WMF should keep in mind that in Europe not only freedom of speach is a basic right but also the right to privacy.

The court decision doesn’t give Google or anyone the right to censor anything. It give people the right to remove very private information about them. Something we COMPLETELY agree with on Wikipedia and bend backwards twice to do anyway. Okay, the implementation sucks but not the principle. I am very unhappy with the WMF position on this.

I am even more shocked that Jimmy Wales is speaking up in this issues mixing both Wikipedia/Wikimedia and Google. He’s both on the WMF board and the Google Advisory board. I am the only one seeing a painful CoI here?

thekohser2 1 year

An example of personal information that was made public by the government is the court record documenting Jimmy Wales’ divorce. That information is made available for free here — …and it is my universal right to impart that information, correct?

Talal 1 year

In my opinion, all that content that invades into someone’s privacy should be removed if affected person makes a claim to remove that. Unfortunately, that is not happening in real sense.

Richard 2 years

The EU Court ruling made public (police) pages about sought paedophiles disappear from the search results, further to these peadophiles personal requests to Google.

Read about it here (in Polish):

or contact me (the author) for translation or more info.

schneeschmelze 2 years

@haebwp: The considerations you mention are not reflected in Ms Tretikov’s statement. This is a one-sided view, as is yours because, again, you only discuss those that support your point of view. I have not referred to ano other’s view because I have made a statement of my own on the matter. The point is that the WMF does not speak in my name, and this is all that I would like to say about this. Period.

haebwp 2 years


I suggest you distinguish more carefully between your own personal opinions and “the European perspective”. Many German commenters disagree with you and have been extremely critical of the ECJ ruling, among them longterm Wikimedians such as Benutzer:Historiograf (“a disastrous miscarriage of justice”, ), and various legal scholars (see e.g. the list at ). There is currently some further German community discussion at , which likewise does not support your far-reaching claims of a “deep divide”.

Regards, Benutzer:HaeB (= T. Bayer; personal comment not representing the views of the Wikimedia Foundation)

Stankov 2 years

The court decision does not grant the removal information either from the Internet, or from Wikipedia specifically, but just gives the right to the common citizens to also be able to tweak the search engine’s completely nontransparent page ranking algorithm. I specifically private cases relevant to the particular person.

Once again, this is a decision that impacts the search engine algorithm which is not some impartial mathematical representation of the truth but is already heavily manipulated by many big commercial and state actors from around the world (from record labels to law enforcement).

As a long time Wikipedia contributor and a recurrent donor, I strongly disagree with the unreflected and one-sided position of the WMF.

schneeschmelze 2 years

The ECJ ruling was an important step towards implementing human rights against big private companies in cyberspace. It calibrates the right to access information and the right to be forgotten in a fair way. The results that have to be removed from a search engine index are unlawful. This is by no means a sign of censorship, but rather one of compliance to European law. I would expect the Wikimedia Foundation to respect the law. Instead you announce that you have put up a pillory-style page you consider an act of transparency, listing all those cases that you have become aware of which again is in itself runs the risk of being against the same said law. I think this is rather disappointing because it demonstrates the deep divide between the U.S. and Europe on these issues. As a European Wikipedian, I disagree with the WMF’s position on this matter. Your statement completely lacks the European perspective. It has not been discussed with the European communities, neither. I suggest, you might like to think about this again, please.

vincifr 2 years

Great initiative! I just miss the actual links to the associated pages in the transparency report of the WMF. Having a jpg/pdf of those Google warnings is good, but having *actual links* to the relevant pages appears more important in my eyes, contributing to explain how stupid this “right to be forgotten” is, since it seems that it’s mostly used by gangsters or rogue politicians as of today…

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