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Google Loses Autocomplete Defamation Case 258

Posted by timothy
from the why-italy-and-google-shouldn't-date dept.
superglaze writes "Google has been found liable in an Italian court for defamatory comments made against an anonymous plaintiff — the complainant's name, when googled, elicited autocomplete suggestions that translate as 'con man' and 'fraud.' Google was found not to qualify for EU 'safe harbour' protection because the autocomplete suggestions were deemed to be Google's own creation, and not something merely passing through its systems."
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Google Loses Autocomplete Defamation Case

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  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday April 05, 2011 @09:25PM (#35728338)

    That's it. Clearly Italy has shown that it can't handle the Internet. Someone grab me a chainsaw, I'm cutting their fiberz.

    • by MrQuacker (1938262) on Tuesday April 05, 2011 @09:35PM (#35728444)
      I would like to see the shitstorm that would arise if Google played that card.

      "Fine, you wanna be stupid, then we wont play. Lets see how you deal with a one week outage of our FREE services to you."

      • by dgatwood (11270) on Tuesday April 05, 2011 @10:41PM (#35729020) Journal

        I would like to see the shitstorm that would arise if Google played that card.

        As would I. Italy has been pulling crap like this for quite a few years, and this is the second absolutely ridiculous judgment against Google in an Italian court in the past... what, day? Two days?

        The fact is that Google doesn't create those search suggestions. It merely presents a list of other people's queries based on frequency. That means that Google didn't defame this person. A lot of people doing previous searches did. This would have been an open and shut case in Google's favor in anything but a kangaroo court, which can only lead a sane person to question whether they would have ruled the same way had it been an Italian company. Just saying.

        I think it's about time a major Internet company had the cojones to put Italy in its place—redirect all Google search and Gmail access from Italy to a page explaining the court case, and explaining why Google will no longer serve clients inside Italy. People at the top of Italy's government would be bending over backwards not only to correct the court's decision, but also to make sure it never happens again. Three hours. Tops. And even that's only if they do it over the lunch hour.

        • by SilentChasm (998689) on Tuesday April 05, 2011 @10:53PM (#35729114)

          I'm pretty sure the courts reasoning is that, because google is now modifying their autocomplete (removing "piracy" related things) they are no longer just showing what other people searched for but are actually somewhat responsible for the results now.

          • by MoonBuggy (611105)

            Even so, Google is not in any way implying that the autocompleted term is factually correct, only that it was a string of words searched for by other users. That they block certain terms could muddy the issue if it were done for reasons of accuracy, but it isn't, and thus it doesn't imply any endorsement of the statement.

            The words appearing on the screen have more context than is being taken into account by the court; the 'fact' that Google presented - that many previous users had searched for the term "x i

            • by Fjandr (66656)

              As far as I can tell, the truth is not an affirmative defense in Italian courts. Quite the opposite, actually.

        • by mwvdlee (775178)

          Is Google now also responsible for showing the typo correction suggestions; i.e. "Did you mean '{guy's name} is a con man"?.
          How about the order of results? Obviously, the articles describing this guy as a con man are the most popular and should be listed first.

        • That means that Google didn't defame this person. A lot of people doing previous searches did.

          Not really. "A lot of people" where simply trying to find out whether or not this person was a fraud. A question is not the same thing as an affirmation. Subtle nuance.

          It's as if many people inquired at the police whether a given person was a known scam artist, and police would start telling new inquirers "we don't know, but sure as hell, a lot of people before you had the same question about the same guy". Which I'm pretty much sure they can't do. They may warn people about the guy if they have independen

          • by Skater (41976)

            It's as if many people inquired at the police whether a given person was a known scam artist, and police would start telling new inquirers "we don't know, but sure as hell, a lot of people before you had the same question about the same guy". Which I'm pretty much sure they can't do. They may warn people about the guy if they have independently assessed that this guy is doing something fishy, but they can't badmouth anybody just on the basis of many people wondering...

            Uh, in your example, they AREN'T badmouthing the guy. They are relying the fact that many people have asked the same question. How is that badmouthing him?

        • by marcello_dl (667940) on Wednesday April 06, 2011 @04:07AM (#35730642) Homepage Journal

          Italy is ruled by a guy who owns television stations, and internet is its competition.
          The famous French guy who said "never attribute to malice what can be explained by stupidity" is simply plain wrong again.

        • by Tim C (15259)

          The fact is that Google doesn't create those search suggestions. It merely presents a list of other people's queries based on frequency.

          But it does filter those queries for potentially offensive ones. That right there puts them on dodgy ground in this case.

        • by AmiMoJo (196126)

          The ruling is based on the fact that Google generates the suggestions. Even though the data used for generation is from other people Google still processes it and their argument is that the processing makes Google liable for anything defamatory it produces.

          Naturally Google already censors the suggestions, e.g. typing in "child p" will never produce "child porn". Even the names of porn stars or sex toys are filtered out. Okay, it is censorship but I'm happy with it because I don't really want dodgy stuff on

      • by rtb61 (674572)

        In the end a simple appeal should be enough. The appeal the man's name must be unique. If the name is not unique then the man's own feeling his possible guilt and shame drive the reaction. A name is not a sufficient identifier on the internet and those auto complete merely reflect an automated history of searches, google is not responsible for those searches. Additionally google should have the right to know the name and to be able to publicly seek evidence of the validity of any accusations and thus be ab

        • by mwvdlee (775178)

          Alternatively, Google could try and find an Italian man with the same name and ask him to state in court that he wants his name to be autocompleted with "con man" and "fraud".

      • by Dwonis (52652) *
        That might not be realistic, but Google could easily stop providing autocomplete in Italy.
    • Makes me wonder if there's an judicial exchange program with Australia.
    • Ten bucks says it's Silvio Berlusconi himself. Check out his rap sheet [wikipedia.org] for more exciting facts on just how corrupt one (Italian) man can get!
      • by 517714 (762276)

        The name begins with Truf

        If the precedent applied to the US then Dick Wee [google.com], Dick Hade [google.com],and a lot of others can make some money from Google's "Did you mean" suggestions.

      • by t2t10 (1909766)

        You're probably right: "Silvio Berlusconi truff..." doesn't generate any suggestions.

        However, "Silvio Berlusconi fasc..." still generates "fascist" and "fascism" as suggestions.

      • Someone down the thread posted that the PDF of the court case had the name redacted, but the information was not actually removed. I tried accessing the PDF from the ZDNet link, but it (the PDF itself) has apparently been removed.

        The name he gave was for a guy named Alfio Bardolla. I don't speak Italian, but a search for his name shows that he apparently does seminars on "how to invest in real estate." It seems that he does a lot of self-promotion. I found a discussion on a reviews forum where he had threat [google.com]

    • Someone grab me a chainsaw, I'm cutting their fiberz.

      It is my understanding that backhoes are the appropriate equipment for cuttin fiberz. ;)

      (Seriously. On land most unplanned fiber outages are due to fools operating backhoes.)

    • by 19061969 (939279)
      Not fiberz man, tooobz! Tooobz!
  • by joocemann (1273720) on Tuesday April 05, 2011 @09:28PM (#35728352)

    ... foreign courts are being used for foreign nations to extort money from business they did not produce and had little connection to its success.

    Google should stop providing links to Italian businesses.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by superdude72 (322167)

      Erm, I'm assuming Google is in italy because they turn a profit there. I would call that a connection to Google's success. And for them to stop "providing links" would be like for Pepsi to stop providing sugar water in exchange for money. This is not a route to success. Where did you go to business school, anyway?

    • by squeeze69 (756427)
      Fancy answer, I'm thinking about "internet" as a worldwide thing, what's the meaning of "foreign courts", where are you from? It's not the "business" area, it's the "justice", not really a nation by itself. I.E. We don't have death penalty in any "region", so we should regard USA (or China, or any other nation) as a barbarian society? Greetings.
      • by t2t10 (1909766)

        Courts judgments are only meaningful if they can be enforced. If the Italian court doesn't have a way of getting at Google's assets, what their judges do becomes pretty much irrelevant.

    • Hear, hear! Not that Google, itself, is above trying to use 'pull' to their advantage.. but their immorality doesn't make this anymore justified.

    • by drsquare (530038)

      .. foreign courts are being used for foreign nations

      Yes, those crafty Italians, using Italian courts to enforce Italian law. Whatever next?

    • by 91degrees (207121)
      Ultimately though, nobody is forcing Google to do business in Italy in the first place. They're hardly doing it simply as a favour to Italians. They're doing it in order to make money.

      Italy is happy for them to do this as long as they do it within Italian law. It may well be that Italian law is making this impossible but honestly, I don't think it is. It's not even making it all that difficult.
    • by mpcooke3 (306161)

      I'm not sure I agree with your implication that this is intentional on the part of Italy - after all America is like a shining beacon to the world of how to have a broken legal system.

      But... if you are correct, Google stopping linking to Italian businesses won't help, most likely Businesses will sue about that, and it will only speed up the process of investigating Google for anti-trust issues in Europe. (obviously America is already ahead of us on this front too!)

    • by Tim C (15259)

      If you want to do business in an area (or even just have a presence there), you have to abide by that area's laws. It's nothing to do with extortion; Italian companies doing business in the US are similarly subject to US laws.

    • by Xest (935314)

      "... foreign courts are being used for foreign nations to extort money from business they did not produce and had little connection to its success.."

      I agree this judgement is stupid and unacceptable, but I don't think this si really a fair argument. The fact is Google does business in Italy by providing services too it and takes money from Italy businesses, as such it must ensure it or it's business interests (i.e. subsidiaries) in Italy play by Italian law. This doesn't mean they have to adhere to the cour

  • Oh FFS! (Score:2, Troll)

    by JAlexoi (1085785)
    Oh... Italian court judges.... Well you know what SPQR means - Sono Pazzi Questi Romani (These Romans are crazy)
    • by hldn (1085833)

      romanes eunt domus

      • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday April 05, 2011 @10:54PM (#35729122)

        [Brian is writing graffiti on the palace wall. The Centurion catches him in the act]

        Centurion: What's this, then? "Romanes eunt domus"? People called Romanes, they go, the house?

        Brian: It says, "Romans go home. "

        Centurion: No it doesn't ! What's the latin for "Roman"? Come on, come on !

        Brian: Er, "Romanus" !

        Centurion: Vocative plural of "Romanus" is?

        Brian: Er, er, "Romani" !

        Centurion: [Writes "Romani" over Brian's graffiti] "Eunt"? What is "eunt"? Conjugate the verb, "to go" !

        Brian: Er, "Ire". Er, "eo", "is", "it", "imus", "itis", "eunt".

        Centurion: So, "eunt" is...?

        Brian: Third person plural present indicative, "they go".

        Centurion: But, "Romans, go home" is an order. So you must use...?

        [He twists Brian's ear]

        Brian: Aaagh ! The imperative !

        Centurion: Which is...?

        Brian: Aaaagh ! Er, er, "i" !

        Centurion: How many Romans?

        Brian: Aaaaagh ! Plural, plural, er, "ite" !

        Centurion: [Writes "ite"] "Domus"? Nominative? "Go home" is motion towards, isn't it?

        Brian: Dative !

        [the Centurion holds a sword to his throat]

        Brian: Aaagh ! Not the dative, not the dative ! Er, er, accusative, "Domum" !

        Centurion: But "Domus" takes the locative, which is...?

        Brian: Er, "Domum" !

        Centurion: [Writes "Domum"] Understand? Now, write it out a hundred times.

        Brian: Yes sir. Thank you, sir. Hail Caesar, sir.

        Centurion: Hail Caesar ! And if it's not done by sunrise, I'll cut your balls off.

  • It seems that 'con man' no longer auto completes for me. I guess I will have to go back to pressing that tiresome enter key.
  • by mysidia (191772) on Tuesday April 05, 2011 @09:35PM (#35728446)
    1. Geolocate source ip addresses.
    2. If the IP accessing Google search is an italy IP, turn off the 'autocomplete function'
    3. On every search form and result page, display an orange box with the following text:
    4. We regret to inform you, that your Google search experience due to the actions of Carlo Piana and by order of the court of Milan. The auto complete function has been disabled for the residents of Italy, due to autocomplete results raising claims of defamation.
      If you would like to improve your Google search experience, we encourage you to write to your local member of parliament.
    • If you would like to improve your Google search experience, we encourage you to write to your local member of parliament.

      And surely Google would then be charged with sedition and fomenting revolution.

    • 4 We regret to inform you, that your Google search experience due to the actions of Carlo Piana and by order of the court of Milan. The auto complete function has been disabled for the residents of Italy, due to autocomplete results raising claims of defamation.

      One reason you hire competent local counsel is to save yourself from doing something profoundly stupid when you lose a case in a foreign court.

      The Italian judge, I suspect, would regard a stunt like this as profoundly disrespectful of Italian law and courts and quite good evidence for a charge of an on-going defamation with malice - an attempt to have your revenge on the plaintiff.

      Nor would I expect a member of the Italian Parliament to be any more charitable.

      It is useful to remember that Google is not as

  • Perhaps the Italian Justice System should 'go stick its head in a pig'.

  • by quickgold192 (1014925) on Tuesday April 05, 2011 @10:40PM (#35729014)
    Well what if searching for this his name on Google results in the top 10 hits being titled along the lines of "This dude is a con man and a fraud!!"? Is Google responsible for *that* algorithm? After all, the autocomplete algorithm is just another search algorithm, except instead of searching through pages it searches through past inputs.
    • Well what if searching for this his name on Google results in the top 10 hits being titled along the lines of "This dude is a con man and a fraud!!"? Is Google responsible for *that* algorithm?

      If it is, then former senator and impossible presidential candidate Rick Santorum [google.com] is going to be first in line for that lawsuit.

  • Italian Justice == Oxymoron.
  • Like a shining beacon they show the rest of the world just how destructive and arbitrary a bad justice system can be. Ditto for Brazil.
  • Was the "complainant's name" Berlusconi?

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