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Report: Google Loses Italian Autocomplete Defamation Case
engine




msg:4292560
 5:15 pm on Apr 5, 2011 (gmt 0)

Report: Google Loses Italian Autocomplete Defamation Case [zdnet.co.uk]
Google has lost a case in Italy over the defamatory nature of autocomplete suggestions, according to a lawyer for the complainant.

On Tuesday, lead counsel Carlo Piana wrote on his blog that the Court of Milan has upheld its earlier decision to order Google to filter out libellous search suggestions. These are the suggestions that pop up in Google's search input bar, proposing what the user might be wanting to search for.

People searching via Google for Piana's client, who remains publicly unnamed, were apparently presented with autocomplete suggestions including truffatore ("con man") and truffa ("fraud").


 

TheMadScientist




msg:4293147
 2:39 pm on Apr 6, 2011 (gmt 0)

Is their full motto:

Don't Be Evil, Just See How Much We Can Get Away With Instead of Thinking and Acting Responsibly, then If Someone Notices and We Get Sued We Can Fight It and Blame the Algo Rather than Fixing It ... After All, It's Not Us Doing It.

'We didn't know we were recording anything except wifi locations, our programs are really complicated, and that stuff all got recorded on accident...', 'We didn't notice the privacy issues with Buzz...','We can't control what shows in those suggestions, the algorithm and the searchers are in control of that, you know, unless someone might stop using our search engine because of the suggestions, then we can control it, but otherwise it's the algorithm and the searchers...'

I'm calling BS on their BS.

Samizdata




msg:4293178
 3:11 pm on Apr 6, 2011 (gmt 0)

I'm calling BS on their BS

You (and others) are spectacularly missing the point.

Bing and Yahoo both use search suggestions.

...

Demaestro




msg:4293189
 3:31 pm on Apr 6, 2011 (gmt 0)

A court has ruled, incorrectly, that Google posing a question to it's users, albeit in short form, is the equivalent of making a declarative statement.

Ridiculous.

Suggested search is simply Google/Yahoo/Bing saying
"You are typing X, would you like to search for X + Y as others before you have done?"

It is not saying
"You are typing X did you know that X did Y?"

I find it sad that a court of law in any country can't figure this out. A suggested search feature is just that, a suggestion on what to search for, it is not a headline or an assertion.

How can anyone take this:

"Would you like to search for websites containing ......?"

To mean:

"Did you know that ........"

TheMadScientist




msg:4293207
 3:56 pm on Apr 6, 2011 (gmt 0)

Bing and Yahoo both use search suggestions.

Oh, NO WAY!

And you seem to be missing what forum we're in and whom the lawsuit was against [It was against Google and we're in the Google Forum] ... If I feel the need to post on Bing or Yahoo! I'll generally do that in the Bing and Yahoo! forums, this happens to be a Google thread in the Google Forum and Google is the company that got sued, so as far as I'm concerned Google is the relevant search engine of the thread...

But just so you don't think I'm not fair, if Yahoo! and Bing can't control theirs I think the responsible thing is for them to remove them too ... Three wrongs don't make a right ... And three big companies wanting to do something doesn't make the law, at least in Italy it seems.

EDITED x 2: Might have been a bit over the edge of the terms previously, so I toned it down to 'close to the edge', I hope ... I'm trying ... lol

Samizdata




msg:4293227
 4:26 pm on Apr 6, 2011 (gmt 0)

as far as I'm concerned Google is the relevant topic of the thread

I'd say it was about a legal principle which applies to all search engines equally.

Ranting about one while ignoring the others may be mad, but it is not scientific.

...

TheMadScientist




msg:4293231
 4:29 pm on Apr 6, 2011 (gmt 0)

"You are typing X, would you like to search for X + Y as others before you have done?"

Most people don't have a clue that's how it works, so by putting it there it is, imo, very misleading to most of the searching population ... My guess is they may have had less of an issue if they spelled out what it was and how it was derived.

EG 9px text at the top of the suggestions stating:
Other people have recently search for:
Suggestion 1
Suggestion 2
Suggestion 3

Ranting about one while ignoring the others may be mad, but it is not scientific.

Read the Fine Print Above Please, especially before you make what could be construed as 'personal attacks' which are against the TOS ... Almost sorry I toned my post down ... I'd love to tear into you for replying without bothering to read or at the least give any credence to the entire post I made in reply to yours, but that's against the TOS...

walkman




msg:4293240
 4:37 pm on Apr 6, 2011 (gmt 0)


I'd say it was about a legal principle which applies to all search engines equally.

Ranting about one while ignoring the others may be mad, but it is not scientific.

Nothing to do science here pal, Google got sued this time, not MSFT or YHOO. So we're talking about Google and their idiotic defense that we're not to blame since the computer they programmed that way did it.

Make no mistake that MS and Yahoo will be targeted in time. It never fails

Demaestro




msg:4293257
 4:53 pm on Apr 6, 2011 (gmt 0)

And you seem to be missing what forum we're in and whom the lawsuit was against [It was against Google and we're in the Google Forum]


You seem to be arguing that the court made the right decision, which is fine but you can't ask people to not make valid points about other search sites doing the same thing because of the name of the forum. Those points are valid to the discussion and dismissing them based on the title of a forum is really lame.

Most people don't have a clue that's how it works,


That doesn't change the facts of the case, nor does it change the reality of what suggestion search is.

People's misunderstanding shouldn't be a consideration when dealing in facts. Catering to the ignorant or the lowest common denominator just "dumbs" down everything we do. Do you really want a warning on everything that explains the obvious to people who are oblivious?

This is like McDonalds and Stella where we now have warnings on coffee cups telling us that the coffee is hot, and hot things can burn us.

I agree that text reading:

"Other people have recently search for: "

would be beneficial but the absence of a message of this type doesn't change what suggestion search is, it only makes it more apparent.

TheMadScientist




msg:4293264
 4:59 pm on Apr 6, 2011 (gmt 0)

I think some people just enjoy arguing with the poster, not the actual post...

But just so you don't think I'm not fair, if Yahoo! and Bing can't control theirs I think the responsible thing is for them to remove them too ... Three wrongs don't make a right ... And three big companies wanting to do something doesn't make the law, at least in Italy it seems.

And, apparently, the courts in Italy see those defending Google as in the wrong...

This is like McDonalds and Stella where we now have warnings on coffee cups telling us that the coffee is hot, and hot things can burn us.

Obviously, you don't know all the facts ... The reason she won was because McDonald's over heated their coffee, because hotter water brews stronger coffee, so they could use less grounds to make a pot, and she received a percentage of their coffee sales as a settlement for the burns she received from the over heated coffee ... The value of the settlement was from a single day's sales ... Had the temperature of the coffee been 'coffee pot standard' she would likely not have won.

ADDED: It actually may have been one day's coffee sales she received ... Yes, they do millions of dollars of coffee sales daily ... I don't remember if it was a percentage or a full days coffee sales, but the settlement value was derived from their coffee sales for a single day.

Demaestro




msg:4293296
 5:27 pm on Apr 6, 2011 (gmt 0)

Google and their idiotic defense that we're not to blame since the computer they programmed that way did it


That wasn't really their entire defense, only a part of it. I don't see what is idiotic about explaining that the system is automated and all it does is takes what people type into Google and uses that to offer suggestions on things people may want to search for.

In my opinion the only idiotic thing here is that someone sees that drop down box and takes it to mean that Google is asserting something not suggesting a search term.

TheMadScientist




msg:4293308
 5:42 pm on Apr 6, 2011 (gmt 0)

Okay, but the laws are in place to protect everyone ... If McDonald's had already had a warning label on their over heated coffee they would not have lost the case ... (That's why it's there now, so they can keep doing it and not lose a lawsuit again.) ... If Google put a 'warning label' on their suggestions rather than simply 'suggesting' they, imo, may not have lost...

What they do now is 'suggest' EG 'Hey, you're looking for company A, maybe you should look at Company A Scamming People' is an easy interpretation of the suggestion, imo ... If you said something to me about Company A and I 'suggested' you 'might want to look into Company A Scamming People' could you easily get a negative feeling about Company A from my suggestion? ... If they said at the top: 'Other people have recently searched for' so you know all it is from is other people searching and not a 'suggestion you search about' there's a completely different tone to the message, imo...

IMO There's a big difference between:
We suggest you search about...
Other people have searched about...

They're suggesting the searches with the auto complete.

[edited by: TheMadScientist at 5:47 pm (utc) on Apr 6, 2011]

Demaestro




msg:4293310
 5:47 pm on Apr 6, 2011 (gmt 0)

Obviously, you don't know all the facts


Wrong, in fact I studied the case in a class.

Someone took a container of hot liquid and put it between their legs to remove the lid and spilled the contents on themselves. Do you not see any personal responsibility there?

The problem wasn't the temp of the coffee the problem was the careless nature that the lid was removed. The temperature of the coffee didn't cause the spill. The reason the case is a folly is that Stella wasn't assigned any blame. Coffee at 40 degrees less would still have caused a burn, albeit a less severe burn. The interesting question is if the burns were less severe and she still sued would that have absolved McDs of the blame?

ddogg




msg:4293312
 5:49 pm on Apr 6, 2011 (gmt 0)

The search suggestions where 'scam' and 'rip off' were a bunch of BS plain and simple. Google's own keyword tool shows those queries to be VERY rarely searched for my sites, yet they still show up in the suggestions right there for everyone to see. It was garbage. Unless there is a certain level of volume searches like that should not be suggested.

TheMadScientist




msg:4293315
 5:52 pm on Apr 6, 2011 (gmt 0)

Wrong, in fact I studied the case in a class.

So, you knew the temperature was unexpectedly high and you don't think that has any bearing on the outcome? I definitely do ... You could spill a normal cup of coffee on most clothing and not receive any degree of burn, but it was not a normal cup of coffee that was spilled...

If a plumber comes to your house and over heats your water heater thermostat, causing a burn when there's a toilet flush, is that not the fault of the professional who did the work, or is it yours for taking a shower?

If the plumber warns you it's too hot and you do nothing, then that's your fault, obviously, but without a warning, then, imo, and legally I think, it's the responsibility of the plumber ... McDs brews coffee professionally.

The warning label absolves the responsibility, doesn't it?

It's a fairly easy translation to the Google case, imo...

It's the same thing with the wet floor sign ... If it's out, it's your fault if you slip and fall, if it's not, even though 'everyone' knows floors are slippery when they're wet, it's the fault of the establishment.

[edited by: TheMadScientist at 5:57 pm (utc) on Apr 6, 2011]

Demaestro




msg:4293317
 5:57 pm on Apr 6, 2011 (gmt 0)

Mad, you are wrong though, they didn't put a a warning that the contents are overheated (whatever that means, I haven't heard of a enforced standard temperature that coffee is to be)... they put a warning that the contents are hot and that you can get burned.

Regardless of the temp that is going to be true. The question you should ask yourself is do you want to live in a nanny state where you are constantly being protected from yourself or do you want to live somewhere that has a certain amount of personal responsibility?

I for one don't want a warning label on everything I come in contact with. I know that coffee is hot, I know that hot things burn me, I don't want my cup of coffee costing an extra $0.10 just so they can print that on the cups because 1 person may not grasp the concept. That warning is a joke.


IMO There's a big difference between:
We suggest you search about...
Other people have searched about...


IMO either one of those clears Google. Both outline the fact that the drop down box contains suggested search terms.

Remember this is a defamation Case and defamation is the communication of a statement that makes a claim. How can suggesting a search be a claim? It doesn't matter if the suggestion is from Google or from Google's users it is still a suggestion not a statement that makes a claim.

TheMadScientist




msg:4293318
 5:58 pm on Apr 6, 2011 (gmt 0)

You're contrary to every single case I can remember reading about...
I think they're all wrong according to you.

Done with this one ... You win.

ADDED: One more note on this ... I used to work for the company that lost that lil coffee lawsuit and everyone I remember talking to about it understood why ... Go figure.

[edited by: TheMadScientist at 6:26 pm (utc) on Apr 6, 2011]

Demaestro




msg:4293323
 6:09 pm on Apr 6, 2011 (gmt 0)

It is my own fault for descending into a discussion about warning labels.

My feeling on this case is simple. Does Google suggesting a search term to someone equate to communicating of a statement that makes a claim?

I don't think so, but that is just my opinion. I haven't won anything.

IanKelley




msg:4293331
 6:17 pm on Apr 6, 2011 (gmt 0)

The simple reality is that the auto-suggest feature which ANY search engine writes is going to produce similar results to those in this case. It's not as if Google's implementation of something that has become a standard part of computer user interfaces is biased in such as way as to produce the defamation.

You (and others) are spectacularly missing the point.


Amen, and here's why:

I hate them too. My bounce rate soared after Google implemented it. [...] I'm glad this decision was upheld.


People want to see Google lose. It doesn't matter that defamation via auto-complete is unrelated to bounce rates in every possible way. Just so long as Google loses.

But it's not just Google that loses in cases like this, it's everyone. In the future anyone with a presence in Italy that implements search has to either leave out auto-complete or risk getting sued.

And the leap from auto-complete to search results in general is not large. I would guess that any search for the criminal in question's name is going to be populated almost entirely with results relating to his crimes.

There's very little difference. Both are auto-generated results based on 3rd party input. Both suggest that he's a criminal.

This is another case of failure to understand technology.

Leosghost




msg:4293333
 6:20 pm on Apr 6, 2011 (gmt 0)

The injury received from hot liquid spills is a scald ..not a burn..and they use water at over boiling point when it passes through the coffee..like traditional espresso ..which is why it is dangerous ..filter coffee has water passing through it at around 95c which scalds but with much less skin damage..just setting the record straight..

The question you should ask yourself is do you want to live in a nanny state


Italy is hardly a "nanny state" as you would know if you had visited or lived there ..but like many European states it reserves the right to have its own courts decide the law and the rules which apply within its territory..not a US based multinational search engine/ad agency.

Always the same ones who defend Google no matter what..maybe we all should have to declare if we have any connections/interests or if we are shareholders of or have close friends who work for certain companies in our profiles..might be enlightening.

In the future anyone with a presence in Italy that implements search has to either leave out auto-complete or risk getting sued.


Any company or individual has to respect the local laws of each country that it operates in ..being a search engine or a large USA company does not, and should not grant exemptions to that..

Co-incidentally there is a well known expression ( even known in the USA )..goes "when in Rome ........" I'm sure that you can "auto complete" that sentence without the aid of a search engine ;-) ..been around for at least a thousand years as a sentiment..

TheMadScientist




msg:4293339
 6:31 pm on Apr 6, 2011 (gmt 0)

Alright, I figured it out, so I have to post one more...

I for one don't want a warning label on everything I come in contact with.

It's not about what's best for everyone, it's about what you personally want or don't want for yourself ... Your positions make much more sense now.

IanKelley




msg:4293345
 6:36 pm on Apr 6, 2011 (gmt 0)

As with so many of these cases, it's not really Google that is the issue.

Google is the company that everyone is suing, because they have the cash, but the issues that are being decided invariably have far reaching effects on internet companies in general.

Of course no laws have been created in this case, but in the future Italian courts are going to have to look very carefully at any kind of defamation claim where automated content generation is concerned. That applies to a pretty large part of the internet.

I don't like decisions like this because they hurt innovation. Large companies can afford to lose these kinds of suits, small startups cannot.

As a result precedents like this ultimately hurt smaller companies more, thereby entrenching big corporations like Google.

Why we haven't learned this after seeing it time and again historically is a mystery to me.

Leosghost




msg:4293351
 6:50 pm on Apr 6, 2011 (gmt 0)

I don't like decisions like this because they hurt innovation.


Not at all they just mean the that Google and any other search engine that uses auto complete either has to filter it, or not use it at all in Italy or any other country that goes takes this legal view..

Doesn't hurt "innovation" at all ..Italy isn't telling Google what it can or cannot do outside of Italy..

Google is the company that everyone is suing, because they have the cash,


Maybe they are going after Google because the other search engines auto complete don't give these specific results ? ..Microsoft/Bing has far deeper pockets than Google..

But the issues that are being decided invariably have far reaching effects on internet companies in general.


True..the effect is that some countries are saying that because it is "internet" and or "it makes loads of money".. doesn't give it a "free pass" ..the USA seems not to have the will to draw lines that must not be crossed ..except if there is a well funded lobby paying for the ink..

Demaestro




msg:4293358
 7:13 pm on Apr 6, 2011 (gmt 0)

It's not about what's best for everyone, it's about what you personally want or don't want for yourself


Again I made the mistake of getting into a conversation about warnings. That has nothing to do with why I feel this ruling is a bad one.

In this case, with Suggestion search Google is saying "Hey why not research if so and so is a scam"

IMO to be guilty of defaming someone they would have to say "Hey, so and so is a scam"

But they aren't saying so and so is a scam, they are suggesting you search to see if so and so is a scam.

That is really my only problem with this ruling.

I should have left Stella out of it.

BillyS




msg:4293387
 8:30 pm on Apr 6, 2011 (gmt 0)

travelin cat, looks like you are on your own


No he's not. It's just that it's easy to see where this thread is going to head... It's a classic post that will prompt everyone that has an axe to grind with Google to jump on. As a society, we love to see the big guy humbled. I'm not the jealous type, never have been. Worrying about what the other guy has only slows me down.

Google is only showing us what other people are searching for - right? If you guys want to live in a filtered world, that's your choice. Not mine.

Leosghost




msg:4293397
 8:58 pm on Apr 6, 2011 (gmt 0)

The thing is they do filter what shows up in "autosuggest" ( thankfully ) ..try typing letter by letter "child por" and they don't give you any suggestions after the letter "r" ..not even for "portraits" ..and yet there are people searching for those two words in combination..and others..and the serps include all the combinations that you are thinking off ..which is one way that the cops find the illegal sites..

I tested this particular possible "autosuggestion" just before posting this ..with safe search off ..

So ..if they can and do filter ..
a) you are already living in that world..
and
b) they filter right now..when it suits them ( and I'm glad they do on this one ) and when it is against USA laws ..and I'm not in the USA ..

so they can do it ..they do do it ..

walkman




msg:4293414
 9:14 pm on Apr 6, 2011 (gmt 0)

In this case, with Suggestion search Google is saying "Hey why not research if so and so is a scam"

IMO to be guilty of defaming someone they would have to say "Hey, so and so is a scam"

But they aren't saying so and so is a scam, they are suggesting you search to see if so and so is a scam.

This case was argued in court. Google lost after presenting their case and I'm sure they had great lawyers.

Seb7




msg:4293434
 9:59 pm on Apr 6, 2011 (gmt 0)

I think google suggests should be off by default, something to opt-in, as it does more harm than any good.

Let's all go to google and search for 'google is a scam'. Maybe that might help!

Samizdata




msg:4293444
 10:23 pm on Apr 6, 2011 (gmt 0)

Let's all go to google and search for 'google is a scam'

About 261,000 results.

Interestingly, the autosuggest feature included "Google is a CIA front".

I do not, however, consider that an official statement by the company.

...

Demaestro




msg:4293447
 10:40 pm on Apr 6, 2011 (gmt 0)

The thing is they do filter what shows up in "autosuggest"


filtering out prawn and filtering out terms that could be deemed defamation are hardly akin to each other and because you can do one doesn't mean you can do the other.

typing in pop rocks and coke I see a suggestion to search "pop rocks and coke kill you"

Does coke and pop rocks have a defamation case against Google for this suggested search term? Does me seeing this mean that Google is asserting that Pop rocks and coke kill?

Do you think it is possible to find all instances and word combination that could be construed as defamation and filter them out?

If Google did filter out some defamation terms and not others wouldn't a case against them be stronger? Complainants would use it against them saying... Google filtered out xyz why didn't they extend the same courtesy to me? They could even call it malicious in such a case.

This case was argued in court. Google lost after presenting their case and I'm sure they had great lawyers.


Gee thanks! I wasn't sure when I said I disagreed with the ruling.


Interestingly, the autosuggest feature included "Google is a CIA front".

I do not, however, consider that an official statement by the company.


I lawled

But on a serious note type in "Google is " and you will see

"google is racist"
"google is your friend"
"google is skynet"
"google is gay"
"google is evil"
"google is god"

Maybe Google's adword division should file suit in Italy against Google's search division for defaming them. Or maybe God should sue them.

[edited by: Demaestro at 10:49 pm (utc) on Apr 6, 2011]

MWpro




msg:4293450
 10:49 pm on Apr 6, 2011 (gmt 0)

I'm not sure how the McDonald's coffee lawsuit got into the mix, but TheMadScientist > Demaestro in terms of understanding this case.

People who cite this case often have little understanding of it.

Here's what you need to know: there was a jury question concerning the temperature of the coffee and McDonald's prior knowledge of prior injuries and how dangerous it was (about 700 previous complaints); most restaurants served coffee at 135 degrees---McDonald's served their coffee at 190 degrees; the plaintiff was tremendously injured (think severe genital burns); the plaintiff was not driving; the vehicle she was in was not moving; plaintiff was 79 years old; she offered to settle the case for $20,000; and the jury obviously felt sorry for her because they are human.

If there are issues of fact that a jury needs to decide, then a jury gets to decide them! They obviously awarded a high dollar amount in punitive damages because they knew a small amount would do nothing to deter McDonald's in the future.

The plaintiff ultimately received $640,000, not millions.

But really, this was not the pivotal case that mandated warning labels on anything. If a product is dangerous, then you have to warn customers about it. This principle existed long, long before the McDonald's coffee case.

What is the legal holding of the case? Whether the coffee was dangerous was an issue for the jury---and they determined that it was indeed dangerous.

Please stop misunderstanding this case, and certainly do not cite it in a conversation about Google!

Demaestro




msg:4293452
 10:54 pm on Apr 6, 2011 (gmt 0)

Arg, I already said I shouldn't have brought it up.

The only reason I did was I was pointing out that suggested search is not an assertion, it is a question in short hand form posed to a user... and someone replied that the person didn't understand how Google works so they were correct in thinking that it was an assertion.

I, stupidly, countered that Stella didn't understand that hot coffee burns you and also sued, and that I didn't think that was the correct ruling either.

I fully understand all the points of that case and because I put personal responsibility above social hand-holding I think it is the wrong ruling.

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