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:

Read more Legal

Help us unlock the world’s knowledge.

As a nonprofit, Wikipedia and our related free knowledge projects are powered primarily through donations.

Donate now

Contact us

Questions about the Wikimedia Foundation or our projects? Get in touch with our team.

Photo credits