A Google search, at one time, could locate a news article on a man accused of attempted child rape, another on someone charged with fraud and still others on Ukrainian politicians facing corruption allegations. Googling certain keywords in March would find an article detailing the movements of two coronavirus-infected British tourists in Vietnam and warning others who visited the same places to take precautions.

Then the stories vanished.

Google stopped listing them in searches after it received formal requests that it scrub links to the pieces, a Wall Street Journal investigation found.

The Journal identified hundreds of instances in which individuals or companies, often using apparently fake identities, caused the Alphabet Inc. unit to remove links to unfavorable articles and blog posts that alleged wrongdoing by convicted criminals, foreign officials and businesspeople in the U.S. and abroad.

Google took them down in response to copyright complaints, many of which appear to be bogus, the Journal found in an analysis of information from the more than four billion links sent to Google for removal since 2011.