Google pulls plug on URL removal tool

The company has disabled a tool that allows webmasters to flag up URLs for urgent removal from its search, after a report that anyone could cause any site to be taken down

Google has disabled a URL removals tool after a British site manager reported a glitch that may have let anyone delist any website from its search results.

A site owner who wants to flag up a whole URL or other content for urgent removal from Google's search results can do this via the URL removal feature in Google's Webmaster Tools. On Tuesday, James Breckenridge, operations director at digital marketing company UK Web Media, said he had found the suspected flaw after writing a script to automate removals using the tool.

"The process is actually very simple and just requires some minor modifications to a URL, followed by a form submission," Breckenridge said in a blog post.

Breckenridge said he had posted the blog outlining the loophole to bring it to Google's attention. Once alerted, the search giant took the precaution of suspending the tool.

"We're still investigating this report, and to be cautious we disabled all URL removals yesterday morning (Pacific time)," Google said in a statement on Wednesday.

The script allowed Breckenridge to "remove a URL on one of the world's largest websites" by accident, to remove a friend's blog and to remove a website that he controlled, but which was not in his Webmaster Tools account, he said.

"I was stunned it could be that easy," Breckenridge said. "I can't believe I am the only person to figure this out, and there are a number of things that could be happening right now if this information is already in the wrong hands."

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