Monday 21 January 2019

Wikipedia boss: 'Google should not censor history'

Tim Sculthorpe

Google must not be left to "censor history" if a European Court ruling allowing people to have links removed from the search engine's index stands, the founder of Wikipedia said today.

In May, the European Court of Justice (ECJ) said links to irrelevant and outdated data should be erased from searches on request, sparking concerns about news stories and other previously public information being hidden.

Web pages remain online but do not appear in EU versions of the Google search engine if a user looks for them after they have been removed from the index.

Google has received about 91,000 such requests since the ruling came into force, according to reports.

Speaking on the BBC Radio 4 Today programme, Jimmy Wales, the founder of the free encyclopaedia Wikipedia, said: "The law as it stands right now is quite confusing. We have this one ruling of the ECJ which is very open-ended and very hard to interpret.

"I would say the biggest problem we have is that the law seems to indicate Google needs to censor links to information that is clearly public - links to articles in legally published, truthful news stories.

"That is a very dangerous path to go down, and if we want to go down a path where we are going to be censoring history, there is no way we should leave a private company like Google in charge of making those decisions."

He added: "I can't speak to the position of the company - I am on an external board advising Google, coming up with recommendations for search engines generally, coming up with recommendations for Parliamentarians as to how to reform the law.

"There is a sense that one of the big philosophical problems with the approach that has been taken is that the idea of personal data is so broad under European law, almost anything about a person is considered to be personal data - including that the Prime Minister is married; that is personal data about the Prime Minister.

"What we need to do when we talk about protection of consumers... we talk about companies having information and needing to handle it in an appropriate way - we are talking there about private information, your health records, your financial information. That's a completely different category."

Speaking on the same programme, Labour MP Claude Moraes, chairman of the European Parliament civil liberties committee, said: "The law is confused at the moment. This relates to the 1995 data protection law that exists and the European Court of Justice simply interpreted law that has existed.

"That is ancient law as far as technology is concerned - mobiles were around in 1994. That tells you where we were.

"What is currently blocked is the new data protection law which talks not about a right to be forgotten, but a right to erasure.

"What we need is clarification of the law.

"What we have done in the European Parliament is brought in this right of erasure. It's all been now blocked."

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