In case you’re just catching up, last May the European Union passed a ruling requiring Google to remove search results by request if the pages that are “inadequate, irrelevant, or no longer relevant.” Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales has been critical of the ruling from the start, writing, “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.”
Now Wikipedia has doubled down on the criticism at the launch of its first-ever transparency report, which like similar reports from Twitter and Apple, details government requests for personal information and copyright takedown notices. In an interesting precedent for transparency reports, the Wikimedia Foundation also divulged how many links Google was asked to remove as part of the “right to be forgotten” ruling.
According to the Guardian, Wikipedia general counsel Geoff Brigham says there may have been more Wikipedia links removed without the non-profit’s knowledge:
“We only know about these removals because the involved search engine company chose to send notices to the Wikimedia Foundation. Search engines have no legal obligation to send such notices.”
Wales believes that Google’s enforcement of “right to be forgotten” laws is tantamount to censorship. Calling this “censorship” may be going a bit too far — after all, Google isn’t removing the actual content from the Internet, it’s simply removing the links in its search results. That said, as Mark Ames has written here, Google has a “near-total monopoly on what we know.”
“If it’s not Google-able, it’s presumed to have been deleted from the historical record,” Ames writes.
As promised, Wikipedia’s “transparency report” also details government requests for information and takedown notices. The company says it received requests for user data 56 times between July 2012 and June 2014, and complied with only 14 percent of those requests. By contrast, Twitter complied with government requests for data 72 percent of the time, according to its latest transparency report.
Perhaps the most heartening thing about the report is that of the 304 requests for copyrighted material to be taken down, Wikipedia did not comply with a single one. Much of the content that is published to Wikipedia is done so under a creative commons license, and if the content is copyrighted, the user must provide proof that she received permission from the copyright owner. This method differs greatly from the models used by Tumblr and YouTube. On those sites, no copyright requirements are demanded upon uploading content, however, both sites regularly comply with DMCA takedown notices, even when the request has no merit. For example, Tumblr recently took down a number of negative reviews of a comic book artist that used his artwork in the posts. Because reviews are considered commentary, a reviewer is allowed to use some of the copyrighted work being discussed under fair use laws.
You may not agree with Wales that Google’s “right to be forgotten” ruling is a form of censorship. Nevertheless, it’s great to see Wikipedia promoting transparency when it comes to these de-listed pages. And as Google continues to face a host of problems in enforcing the ruling, somebody has to keep the company accountable.
[Image courtesy Professor Bop]