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Google found guilty in libel case

Google found guilty in libel case

Google's French arm has been found guilty of libel as a result of some unsavoury auto-suggestions.

Google's French arm has been ordered to pay libel damages to a man whose name brought up unsavoury automatic suggestions on the search engine.

According to iTnews.com.au, the search giant stood accused of damaging an un-named man's reputation by suggesting the words "rape," "rapist," and "prison" when his name was entered into the search box on Google.fr.

Although the man had previously been imprisoned in France on charges of corrupting a minor, the court decided in his favour, and has moved that Google pay the man €5,000 in damages.

As a result of the ruling, Google has also been ordered to remove the automatically-generated suggestions - although the advertising giant says it will to appeal the court's decision.

In an email statement, a Google spokesperson claimed that "it is important to point out that Google Suggest is an aggregate of the most popular searches based on past requests from users," and that it believed that the court had misunderstood the basic point that "Google does not suggest these terms."

Are you surprised that the French courts would rule against Google despite that fact that the suggested terms merely reflect prior searches, or is it clear that Google's behaviour resulted in direct damage to the man's reputation? Do you think the company will succeed with its appeal? Share your thoughts over in the forums.

45 Comments

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docodine 27th September 2010, 10:33 Quote
Even if it's not Google's suggestion, the fact that on their page if you search that guy's name it comes up with such and such is a rapist is pretty libelous.
capnPedro 27th September 2010, 10:33 Quote
This is so dumb. It's as is people who get to make decisions on technological matters have no understanding of how they work. Oh. Hang on a second...

I suppose now Bit-Tech will get sued for stating that this guy has links to the word "rape". Good thing he isn't named.
eddtox 27th September 2010, 10:37 Quote
Libel laws need revising. Auto-complete based on common past searches cannot be libellous.
tristanperry 27th September 2010, 10:39 Quote
That's pretty silly considering it's an automated system, and it's a valid search 'suggestion'

I could understand if Google Suggest showed up really incorrect and offensive suggestions (didn't 4Chan recently manipulate Google Suggest so that searching for Justin Bieber would suggest 'Justin Bieber Syphilis'? In this case I could understand a lawsuit, but even then I think it'd be harsh)

But yeah, this particular case is very silly.
mi1ez 27th September 2010, 10:51 Quote
^ They call it googlebombing.
Pete J 27th September 2010, 10:54 Quote
Quote:
the man had previously been imprisoned in France on charges of corrupting a minor
Well, he shouldn't have done that then, should he? Scum.
Skiddywinks 27th September 2010, 11:36 Quote
Quote:
Originally Posted by Pete J
Quote:
the man had previously been imprisoned in France on charges of corrupting a minor
Well, he shouldn't have done that then, should he? Scum.

Are you that thick? You missed out the "Although" at the beginning of your chosen quote, and missed out the ", the court decided in his favour" at the end of it.
tristanperry 27th September 2010, 11:39 Quote
Quote:
Originally Posted by mi1ez
^ They call it googlebombing.
Ah yes, of course :)

That rings a bell now - I remember they did the same to Paris Hilton. With Google suggesting she *is* a [adult filter] when people typed in *isn't* :D
mi1ez 27th September 2010, 12:00 Quote
Quote:
Originally Posted by tristanperry
Quote:
Originally Posted by mi1ez
^ They call it googlebombing.
Ah yes, of course :)

That rings a bell now - I remember they did the same to Paris Hilton. With Google suggesting she *is* a [adult filter] when people typed in *isn't* :D

And there was the famous Weapons of Mass Destruction one too.
faugusztin 27th September 2010, 12:04 Quote
Quote:
Originally Posted by Skiddywinks
Are you that thick? You missed out the "Although" at the beginning of your chosen quote, and missed out the ", the court decided in his favour" at the end of it.

Court decided in his favor in case against Google, he was guilty of the criminal offense.
Pete J 27th September 2010, 12:13 Quote
Quote:
Originally Posted by faugusztin
he was guilty of the criminal offense.
Thank you.

@Skiddywinks: He was found guilty of 'corruping a minor' prior to this case and served time for it. Hence, as Google says, his name is inevitably going to be linked to this case, isn't it? I don't see why Google should be held responsible for some disreputable w**ker's actions.
Flibblebot 27th September 2010, 12:16 Quote
Quote:
Originally Posted by Skiddywinks
Are you that thick? You missed out the "Although" at the beginning of your chosen quote, and missed out the ", the court decided in his favour" at the end of it.
Now, now. Play nice. ;)

The court decided in his favour in terms of the Google case; he was still convicted and imprisoned for charges of corrupting a minor.

I can see where he's coming from, though - without knowing about the case details, corrupting a minor doesn't necessarily mean rape (it could have been consensual, even though the other party was under-age).

While it's naive to assume that Google had anything actively to do with an automatic search, it could modify the search suggestions to filter out any potentially slanderous phrases - so it's a difficult judgement to call.
cjmUK 27th September 2010, 12:30 Quote
Quote:
Originally Posted by docodine
Even if it's not Google's suggestion, the fact that on their page if you search that guy's name it comes up with such and such is a rapist is pretty libelous.

Not in my country it is not.

Google's suggestions are not google endorsing the pages returned by the search - they are an assertion that that the suggestions are representative of the most popular and accessible content that matches the search - which is a fact.

In general, if a news outlets reports that X is accused of doing Y, they are not suggesting that X did do Y, merely that someone else is making that claim. Likewise, google is merely reporting the fact someone else is accusing this guy of being a rapist - which is true.

I'm surprised that this cases succeeded, even in France - I'm fairly sure it wouldn't succeed anywhere else. The implications for other search engines and media outlets are tremendous.
memeroot 27th September 2010, 12:33 Quote
because we all want fred west - a bit dodgy - to be filtered out
cjmUK 27th September 2010, 12:35 Quote
Quote:
Originally Posted by Flibblebot
... it could modify the search suggestions to filter out any potentially slanderous phrases - so it's a difficult judgement to call.

It couldn't.

How would you decide which information is libellous or not? The very fact that they might start to filter some results would imply that they are deciding that non-filtered results must therefore be true and endorsed by Google - which leaves them wide open for other suits against them.

Their position will remain the same - they returned the most popular results that match the search phrase but will not seek to credit the returned results with any kind of authority.
mrbens 27th September 2010, 12:37 Quote
Google auto complete is funny. If you type in "Religion is" google suggests "bullshit". and if you type "Google is" it says "watching you". :)

I wonder how many other people or companies are going to try sue google now for things that people have searched for?
DMU_Matt 27th September 2010, 12:38 Quote
You're surprised that France did something that no other country would....? ;)
eddtox 27th September 2010, 12:41 Quote
From what I hear UK's libel laws aren't great, either
cjmUK 27th September 2010, 12:43 Quote
Quote:
Originally Posted by DMU_Matt
You're surprised that France did something that no other country would....? ;)

I'm surprised that even France would come to such a judgement. Yes, the French often prefer to plough their own furrow, and they do have privacy laws that favour the individual, but even so, this case was unusual IMHO.

However, it wouldn't be the biggest shock of my life to find out the case was contrived to p**s an American corporation off...*any* American corporation.
Nexxo 27th September 2010, 12:52 Quote
Quote:
Originally Posted by Pete J
Well, he shouldn't have done that then, should he? Scum.
Quote:
Originally Posted by Skiddywinks
Are you that thick? You missed out the "Although" at the beginning of your chosen quote, and missed out the ", the court decided in his favour" at the end of it.

1. Play nice. Don't make me use the banhammer.

2. Pete J is making the point that the man has no grounds for protest because he did in fact commit a crime associated with the terms that he objects being linked to in Google. Basically: if you don't want people to think badly of you, behave yourself. I think that is a valid way of looking at it.

Although 5000 Euros is peanuts to Google, it does well to appeal in order to prevent a precedent that could mean anyone could bar Google from displaying (not making; searchers are doing that) undesired associations between different bits of information. Such as, say: CIA -- torture; Bhopal -- poisoning; [name of politician] -- bribe, corruption; homeopathy -- charlatan; or Catholic Church -- child sexual abuse. Freedom of information, anybody?

Second, Google's search suggestions are not libellous in that they are not making the association or endorsing it. They are just reporting a statistic, basically. Google could argue that its search page content is being written as an ongoing dialogue that does not fall under the edition or regulation of the publishing industry; it is dynamically and automatically generated without premeditation or malicious intent. Therefore innocent dissemination is a defense available when a defendant had no actual knowledge of the defamatory statement or no reason to believe the statement was defamatory.

In many legal systems, adverse public statements about legal citizens presented as fact must be proven false to be defamatory or slanderous/libellous. However what is the truth in this case? The only "truth" that Google's search engine asserts is that people Googling for this man's name also tend to google for the terms: "rape" and "rapist", "prison" etc. Which is a statistical fact (and in terms of the last word, a factually true association).

A third reason it should object is because the French court may just be colluding with the kind of sociopathic reasoning that made the man a criminal offender in the first place. Sorry, but he did corrupt a minor, and badly enough to do time for it, evidently. Which says something. To support his argument which is basically about semantics is indulging him and trivialising his crime.
frenchscottie 27th September 2010, 12:55 Quote
So "Google said suggestions were based on other people's searches, and were not the firm's responsibility"

I don't understand how it would come up with "Rape", "Rapist" when the words used in the article were
" corrupting a minor", whatever that means. Did the searchers type in " "mans name" is a rapist" so google rememberd this ?
Pete J 27th September 2010, 13:32 Quote
^^ That's what I meant!

Edit: Nexxo's post I meant.

Thanks for taking the time to type that Nexxo! +rep (not that you haven't got enough already).
Cobalt 27th September 2010, 14:07 Quote
Quote:
Originally Posted by frenchscottie
So "Google said suggestions were based on other people's searches, and were not the firm's responsibility"

I don't understand how it would come up with "Rape", "Rapist" when the words used in the article were
" corrupting a minor", whatever that means. Did the searchers type in " "mans name" is a rapist" so google rememberd this ?

More likely when the original case was ongoing and people wanted to follow it on the news they would search for "[man's name] rape" or one of the other terms. Google tracks all of the searches and makes suggestions based on what people are searching for. Just because this article uses "corrupting a minor" doesn't mean that everyone did. You can bet all the French tabloids were calling it rape
Daedelus 27th September 2010, 14:28 Quote
Google will win on appeal, otherwise there is something badly wrong with French libel law.
Google are not acting libellously here - they are not suggesting or implying anything.
Azayles 27th September 2010, 16:37 Quote
I'm no lawyer, but surely there could only be a libel charge if the man *wasn't* guilty of rape, or he wasn't in prison. He's been found guilty of these things, so it's true, and therefore not libel. The most the man could claim would be "defamation of character".
Also the guy is obviously after some money, or has no clue that the Google system is automated, and it's not Google's fault. Or both!

Oh sigh :-\
Fabou 27th September 2010, 16:57 Quote
I am french and I think this is stupid.
It's like complaining that in statistic people think you are an asshole.
pimlicosound 27th September 2010, 17:36 Quote
After a bit of research, it turns out this isn't quite as simple as it first appeared, or as Nexxo has described.

The Telegraph reports that the man is appealing his past conviction.

"The court ruled the man had been defamed because he is considered innocent under French law until all of his appeals have been exhausted."

See this article:

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/technology/google/8027967/Google-convicted-of-defaming-French-user-by-linking-his-name-to-rape-in-searches.html

I still don't think Google's to blame for this, because I understand that Google's suggestions are only showing what other people are searching for, but the ongoing appeal does remove the possibility of using the "this man is factually a rapist" defence.
b5k 27th September 2010, 17:57 Quote
Quote:
Originally Posted by eddtox
From what I hear UK's libel laws aren't great, either
That's different. In the U.K. if I protest outside of McDonalds saying "THIS **** MAKES YOU FAT AND MCDONALDS ADVERTISE DIRECTLY TO AND MANIPULATE KIDS" McDonalds could bring a lible case up. At this point the burden of proof is upon ME to prove the claims. Not for McDonalds, a multibillion company, to provide the truth.

There was a documentry involved regarding this case with McDonalds that occured in the 90's I think. McDonalds sued the guy for libel and he had to provide all his own legal council etc etc and all McDonalds had to do was sit and do jack.
b5k 27th September 2010, 18:06 Quote
Quote:
Originally Posted by b5k
Quote:
Originally Posted by eddtox
From what I hear UK's libel laws aren't great, either
That's different. In the U.K. if I protest outside of McDonalds saying "THIS **** MAKES YOU FAT AND MCDONALDS ADVERTISE DIRECTLY TO AND MANIPULATE KIDS" McDonalds could bring a lible case up. At this point the burden of proof is upon ME to prove the claims. Not for McDonalds, a multibillion company, to provide the truth.

There was a documentry involved regarding this case with McDonalds that occured in the 90's I think. McDonalds sued the guy for libel and he had to provide all his own legal council etc etc and all McDonalds had to do was sit and do jack.
http://www.mcspotlight.org/ <-- That's the website of the guy who faught off McDiddies.
Necrow 27th September 2010, 18:47 Quote
Just watch for all the 419 Scammers from Nigeria to put their own names in there like 4Chan did, fly to France and for €150 and then sue them for €5000 - lol
capnPedro 27th September 2010, 19:19 Quote
Quote:
Originally Posted by b5k
McDonalds could bring a lible case up. At this point the burden of proof is upon ME to prove the claims. Not for McDonalds, a multibillion company, to provide the truth.

What's wrong with being innocent until proven guilty?
Rhabid 27th September 2010, 19:52 Quote
Quote:
Originally Posted by Skiddywinks
Are you that thick? You missed out the "Although" at the beginning of your chosen quote, and missed out the ", the court decided in his favour" at the end of it.

Sorry, I'm new, but Pete is right. I believe what they were saying is that Although he did corrupt a child, the courts still found google libel.

He had been found guilty of corrupting a minor previously. When he went to prison, there were probably quite a few articles online and there would be the words "rape", "rapist" and "prison" in an article about someone convicted of this crime.
Nexxo 27th September 2010, 19:57 Quote
Quote:
Originally Posted by pimlicosound
After a bit of research, it turns out this isn't quite as simple as it first appeared, or as Nexxo has described.

The Telegraph reports that the man is appealing his past conviction.

"The court ruled the man had been defamed because he is considered innocent under French law until all of his appeals have been exhausted."

See this article:

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/technology/google/8027967/Google-convicted-of-defaming-French-user-by-linking-his-name-to-rape-in-searches.html

I still don't think Google's to blame for this, because I understand that Google's suggestions are only showing what other people are searching for, but the ongoing appeal does remove the possibility of using the "this man is factually a rapist" defence.
It does not change anything. Google's search suggestions are not libellous in that they are not making, nor endorsing the suggestion that the man is a rapist. The search page content is automatically generated by software, hence without premeditation, hence without malicious intent. The only "truth" that Google's search engine asserts is that people Googling for this man's name also tend to Google for the terms: "rape" and "rapist", "prison" etc. No opinion is implied on the validity of that association.
Sloth 27th September 2010, 21:44 Quote
Quote:
Originally Posted by Nexxo
It does not change anything. Google's search suggestions are not libellous in that they are not making, nor endorsing the suggestion that the man is a rapist. The search page content is automatically generated by software, hence without premeditation, hence without malicious intent. The only "truth" that Google's search engine asserts is that people Googling for this man's name also tend to Google for the terms: "rape" and "rapist", "prison" etc. No opinion is implied on the validity of that association.
+1

Google has, as far as they claim, no input on the Suggest feature. Google will not promote those it favors, it will not denounce those it dislikes. It will simply mirror the input it is given. None of this really has anything to do with whether or not he is a rapist because neither Google nor Google Suggest claimed that he is one. He could be as innocent as a newborn babe, yet still have Google Suggest show such things if enough people search for them.
eddtox 27th September 2010, 22:09 Quote
As an interesting side note, anybody else sharing his name would be in exactly the same situation, without having ever been accused even - but I don't see them suing. (And even if they did, they would be wrong to do so.)

Maybe Google should say the autosuggest was referring to someone else by the same name :P
McSteel 28th September 2010, 03:08 Quote
Quote:
Originally Posted by cjmUK
Quote:
Originally Posted by DMU_Matt
You're surprised that France did something that no other country would....? ;)

I'm surprised that even France would come to such a judgement. Yes, the French often prefer to plough their own furrow, and they do have privacy laws that favour the individual, but even so, this case was unusual IMHO.

However, it wouldn't be the biggest shock of my life to find out the case was contrived to p**s an American corporation off...*any* American corporation.


How about this, then?
Sorry if it's a little off-topic but I had to point it out. Favor the individual. Sure.

And back on-topic, as most of you have already mentioned, the ruling cannot possibly remain in favor of the unnamed felon, for a number of reasons, including some dangerous implications and precedents... Besides, if any company is more than equipped to take care of themselves, it's SkyNe...err.. Google.
Javerh 28th September 2010, 05:49 Quote
I think the court's decision is in line with the current legislation in France. They are pushing the "right to forget" - law. The man has done his time. The search references are probably not made on the spot. You have to have some kind of a database to store those references. Now the court decided that Google is libel because their database contains old search queries which fall in to the jurisdiction of that law.
Ending Credits 28th September 2010, 07:49 Quote
Every time I see one of these stories I wonder what on earth the world is coming too.
capnPedro 28th September 2010, 12:01 Quote
Quote:
Originally Posted by Javerh
Now the court decided that Google is libel because their database contains old search queries which fall in to the jurisdiction of that law.

If you want to talk about jurisdiction, is this database hosted in France?
Reddoguk 28th September 2010, 15:21 Quote
How can the courts prove it's about him anyway.

Surely there's hundreds of people with the same name as him.

If something came up bad about me(my name) then who's to say it isn't one of thousands of different people.
dyzophoria 28th September 2010, 19:04 Quote
Quote:
Every time I see one of these stories I wonder what on earth the world is coming too.

I was thinking the same thing,lol, was wondering, what if the man was trying to turn around, having results like that really helps,lol
MaverickWill 28th September 2010, 21:37 Quote
Anyone fancy carpet-bombing Google with searches for "MaverickWill killed and ate 20 babies with nothing but a broken lightbulb"? I fancy a Ferrari.
frenchscottie 29th September 2010, 01:05 Quote
All I can say is Gooooo Gooooo Google and appeal
Skiddywinks 29th September 2010, 01:20 Quote
Holy ****, my bad Pete J. My post was overly aggressive and utterly retarded.

My sincerest apologies.
Pete J 29th September 2010, 05:59 Quote
Quote:
Originally Posted by Skiddywinks
Holy ****, my bad Pete J. My post was overly aggressive and utterly retarded.

My sincerest apologies.

No worries.
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