Crazy libel action against Google

July 3, 2007

Madness I tell you!

Google has had a defamation action raised against it by a London based businessman who owns a domain registrar. This landmark legal action seeks to hold Google liable for publishing inaccurate, malicious or damaging material on the web.

It’s the first case of it’s kind in the UK that seeks to make a search engine responsible for the content on the web. If successful it could trigger massive restrictions on the freedom of information online.

The case states that the search engine directed users to web pages that the domain registrar claims contain “deeply offensive and commercially damaging” material about their business.

Various postings on forums etc accuse the registrar dotWorlds of cashing in on the September 11th attacks by offering free registration of domain names to U.S. businesses and users in a way that took advantage of the patriotism at the time. In other postings, they are accused of conducting fraudulent business.

Since 2003, the owner of the registrar claims that Google has removed various posts to its own discussion groups at his request, but its search engine continues to turn up links to offensive third-party sites. If Google doesn’t give him a written promise to permanently remove the links, he plans to sue them.

Google would be protected by the first amendment if the action was in the U.S. but in the UK it’s not yet been seen if internet companies have the same protection.

If the the suit is successful, it could have widespread consequences – not just for search engines but for all sorts of other internet service providers that link to third-party content.

Crazy! I can understand Google having to remove content on it’s own groups etc but to have to police the content of web pages that they have control over is madness. Imagine the filtering they’d have to put in place and after everyone else with a libel issue filed suit it would become an unmanageable task.

I sincerely hope this isn’t successful. The domain registrar in question should seek to prove the claims as inaccurate and use that to their advantage to quash all libellous talk rather than trying to ruin the freedom that the internet gives us all.


2 Responses to “Crazy libel action against Google”

  1. dotWORLDS Says:

    We understand that there are many who are rightly concerned about this case. However, what is happening to us is also happening to others and be under no illusion, it could also happen to you.

    Google and other search engines spider links and articles on the Web all day every day and can, in the USA, disseminate the information contained whatever the content, without any liability to themselves (due 1st amendment/freedom of speech laws).

    So what does this mean? This means that tomorrow morning someone with a grudge against you (maybe someone you looked at in a funny way 20 years ago) could tell the world that you are a fraudster, a criminal and a murderer (and that’s just for starters). Within days if not hours, articles containing this “factual information” would start to appear on Search Engines, under your name, probably near the top of the list, lingering on websites like Google for perhaps the next 30 years. Anyone, be it friends, family, potential employers would have instant access to this information simply by “Googling” you. Your life is about to change forever. You have no idea how much.

    Ah, but couldn’t you complain to Google – after all, you are totally innocent of all charges – except maybe for the crime of coming into contact with a complete loony. Absolutely, but Google would do nothing. You would need a court order. Google is not responsible for the content on it’s website and Google is protected by law. No, just go away and search all cyberspace. Take it up with the anonymous author who doesn’t exist.

    If, as has been pointed out that the information on Google’s Search Engine is not always 100% accurate, then perhaps Google should make this clear. Google is a phenomenal product and it is understandable that many have absolute faith in it. However, at the very least there is imbalance and this imbalance is clearly reflected in dotWORLDS case, where despite the fact that Google has published numerous withdrawal notices on Google.UK, not a word of this is mentioned in Google.COM. Why not? If there is a question on authenticity, why aren’t users in the USA told. You may not care one way or the other, but this is not a level playing field of information and as a direct result Google are putting their USA users in jeopardy.

    Repeat publicly any libel that you (or anyone else) find on Google – even if you believe to be 100% accurate – and it is only you that is at risk. If prosecution follows, it will be you that is dragged off to court and if convicted, it would be your big problem and yours alone. Unfortunately, “I found it on Google” is no defense and you can be sure that Google will not be there to help you out. Of course, Google are protected and face no liability whatsoever as in the USA as they aren’t accountable. This would not be the case in the UK and elsewhere.

    So, what do Google do in their own back yard. Well, take the case of Cnet. A reporter a CNet wanted to see how much information could be gathered on the net within a short period of time. After locating some personal information about Dr Schmidt, Google’s Chairman (amongst other things) the data was published. Google, incensed at this invasion of privacy, immediately banned its staff from talking to CNet reporters for one year. Embarrassingly, it transpired that not only was the information already in the public domain, but the same information about Dr Schmidt was also available on Google’s own websites.

    “Google’s reaction to CNet is totally inconsistent with its handling of a man who had been falsely accused as a pedophile by his wife during divorce hearings, The man’s name and photograph were posted on a police website but were removed after the charges were dropped. However, having picked up the story, Google did not remove the pictures or postings it had published on its search engine. According to Pam Dixon, executive director of the World Privacy Forum (WPF), the page remained accessible through Google and was only removed after a long struggle.

    There are 11.5 billion pages on Google. But really, how much of it is truly meaningful. Has this become a race for quantity over quality. Search “Google” on Google and you will find 1 billion entries. Great company – yes it is – but are there really a billion things to say about them. Spend 10 seconds on each page to find out and you will be at your computer for around the next 317 years (give or take a few days).

    Yes, freedom of speech must be preserved and protected, but there is a fine line that is often blurred. We have built up an organization with members and users in over 90 countries around the world and we feel absolutely justified in trying to protect ourselves. As far as we are concerned, Google have been playing games with us for years – responding, ignoring, apologising, removing and re-inserting to their own agenda and in no particular order. This matter could have been settled long ago, amicably and without publicity. On our side at least, we have a mountain of letters and paperwork to prove that.

  2. Steve E Says:

    Many thanks for the response. I fully appreciate your predicament but could you clarify a point for me?

    – Is your complaint about content that is published and sits on Google servers and services (ie. Google Groups etc)? Or is it regarding libelous content that appears on pages within Google search results that actually reside on other servers? –

    If it’s the search results then this does have massive implications for the way users discover information and the way search and the web inherently works (hyperlinking etc). If that’s the case then would you rather Google filtered all pages with the mention of dotWorlds in them (bearing in mind the impact on your business)?

    If it’s pages on Google’s services and servers, then if proved to be false certainly Google should take them down.

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