London - Google has had one demand every seven seconds to suppress information about people’s pasts, it was revealed on Sunday.
The rush of censorship requests follows the internet giant’s move to provide forms allowing people to ask that certain information about them be hidden when their name is searched online.
The figures indicate that large amounts of material could disappear from public reach as a direct result of an EU court decision that search engines must enforce a “right to be forgotten”.
Last Friday – the first day requests could be made – the online form was used 12 000 times, search engine managers said, with applications arriving at the rate of 20 a minute during its busiest periods. Demands came from all 28 EU countries, but are understood to involve hundreds from Britain.
The flood of requests follows last month’s ruling at the EU’s Court of Justice in Luxembourg that people have a right to ask for ‘inadequate, irrelevant or no longer relevant, or excessive’ material about them to be dropped from search results.
However one internet pioneer, Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales, said that the European attempt to suppress information would not work because of the global scale of the web.
He told the BBC’s Andrew Marr show: “They don’t censor the US version. That is not going to happen. There are many search engines around the world which don’t have a presence in Europe and who won’t abide by this ruling.”
Although Google is based in California, judges ruled that it could be considered a European organisation because it maintains sales offices in European countries.
A high proportion of the information expected be lost to European search engine users is likely to be connected to convicted criminals trying to remove records of their past that could be seen by employers, clients or social contacts.
Over the first three days following the court judgement, those asking for records to be removed in Britain included a convicted user of child pornography, a politician with a chequered record in office, and a doctor with a controversial professional record.
The ruling was triggered by a test case involving a Spanish citizen who wanted Google to stop providing an embarrassing link in searches for his name.
The link provided a regional newspaper advert from 1998, in which authorities were auctioning the man’s house to recoup debts to the social security system.
Judges said search engines should be required on request to remove links which breached the “right to be forgotten” – a new rule strongly supported by officials in Brussels but one which has yet to be incorporated into EU treaty law.
The scope of the rule – against which there is no appeal – is not yet clear. The BBC, which runs an archive of news stories dating back to the 1990s, is also among organisations to receive requests that material cease to be flagged up.
Information not shown in internet search results is effectively beyond the reach of web users who do not know the specific location of what they are looking for. - Daily Mail