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Google Was Successfully Sued for Libel Over Autocomplete Text

An Italian court has sided with a case brought against Google that the search engine’s autocomplete text contained libelous information, and was subject to censor.

The case was brought by an unnamed Italian man who found that when typing his name into Google’s search bar, it brought up words such as “fraud” and “con man.” Google had attempted to fight the case by claiming that it was simply hosting the data, a role which is protected by the E-Commerce Directive. But Carlo Piana, the lawyer for the unnamed claimant, held that Google’s autocomplete text was created by Google, and the search giant was therefore liable.

On his blog, Piana emphasized the limited scope of the case.

All I have to say is that it is by no means an endorsement to censorship, as notice to the sued company was given well in advance, the alligations of the complainant were fully discussed with them before even considering to go to court, and the requests was and is only for a very exceptional set of string (two). All cases are different, therefore there is no assurance that similar cases would see the same outcome.

Piana goes on to note that Google already censors some search results, citing in particular Google’s practice of removing search listings that could lead to copyrighted material.

Google has said that they are reviewing their options, and an appeal is no doubt forthcoming. Though censorship of the Internet is always a distasteful thing, this case seems to have not brought an enraging, overly broad interpretation. Instead, it has established some kind of precedent that could give users greater control of their own information. But it is worth asking how much control users deserve. This case aside, people could benefit greatly from seeing “con man” pop up in a search about a nefarious fraud.

(Carlo Piana via ZDNET)

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