While I might get a bit huffy at Google search results that bring up that other person with my name, since she’s not part of a criminal underworld I’m totally not going to sue Google. But one man whose name pulled up all sorts of unfortunate results linking his name to some seriously shady stuff in Australia had enough with being tied to such negative results, so he sued Google for defamation. And he actually won.
The 62-year-old Australian man who won $200,000 (in Australian dollars) in the defamation lawsuit claimed that when results popped up for his name in Google, the site would spit out information that made it seem like he’d been a major crime figure in Melbourne, who’d been the target of a professional hit, reports the AFP.
His name also triggered references to the city’s gangsters, crime bosses and a site that talked about all the things people in criminal underworlds are into (like Godfather quotes and stuff?).
So how do you get linked with a criminal underworld on the internets if you’re not some sort of kingpin? The man had been shot in the back eight years ago in a crime that was never solved, which was apparently enough to turn such an incident into an attempted execution from nefarious criminals.
Google claimed it didn’t do any defaming and instead was just passing on information others had published. But a jury ruled against Google, partly because the man had sent letters from his lawyers to complain about the issue as far back as 2009 and the company had failed to do anything about it.
Legal experts see this is a potentially precedent-setting case, as one media law expert tells the AFP.
“What the court’s said here is that this isn’t just innocent architecture, what this is is human-designed software to showcase information in a certain way,” he says. “The judge has said that because you [Google] have designed [the search results] to appear in this way, you are the publisher of the material.”
Google doesn’t see it that way, saying in a statement:
“Google’s search results are a reflection of the content and information that is available on the web. The sites in Google’s search results are controlled by those sites’ webmasters, not by Google.”
But the judge who ordered Google to pay up says it’s acting like a library or newsagent, both of which have “sometimes been held to be publishers for the purposes of defamation law” in Australia.
“Google Inc is like the newsagent that sells a newspaper containing a defamatory article,” [the judge] said in his judgement. “While there might be no specific intention to publish defamatory material, there is a relevant intention by the newsagent to publish the newspaper for the purposes of the law of defamation.”
It wasn’t just Google the man went after — he also won $225,000 from Yahoo in a similar case, claiming that his reputation as an entertainment promoter was in danger due to such defamation.
And I’m still stuck sharing search results with that other me. At least she’s not a criminal mastermind, right? At least, I hope she’s not.