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Report: Google Loses Italian Autocomplete Defamation Case

     
5:15 pm on Apr 5, 2011 (gmt 0)

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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").

9:26 pm on Apr 5, 2011 (gmt 0)

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Wow. How could Google filter out every possibly defamatory suggestion? And who decides what is defamatory?
9:28 pm on Apr 5, 2011 (gmt 0)

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Good outcome, in my opinion. Auto complete can really hurt people and business owners, and it's time Google is held accountable for their system.


"We believe that Google should not be held liable for terms that appear in autocomplete as these are predicted by computer algorithms based on searches from previous users, not by Google itself," the company said.


This should never be a defense---not with Grokster and not with Google.
9:32 pm on Apr 5, 2011 (gmt 0)

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Wow. How could Google filter out every possibly defamatory suggestion? And who decides what is defamatory?


Filter out words like "scam" "con man" etc from auto complete. Not that hard.
9:40 pm on Apr 5, 2011 (gmt 0)

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There's a lot more to defaming someone then using a couple of words. This could be a major setback for them. If upheld, they may have to remove auto complete from Google Italy.
10:14 pm on Apr 5, 2011 (gmt 0)

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Hopefully, this points to broader considerations : mainly that the web is not the domain where a few large corporations, like Google, Yahoo and Microsoft may trump freely over everybody else's rights and interests. For a long time already they have been abusing their dominant position in the most provocative manner, and in any aspect imaginable.

Belatedly, the rest of the world will roll-back the current state of affairs. And rightly so.

I am not surprised by this and some other current developments (see the E.U. investigation of Google). I am surprised by the length of time this has already taken to materialize.

.
10:28 pm on Apr 5, 2011 (gmt 0)

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How could Google filter out every possibly defamatory suggestion?

If the query started with "Berlusconi" it would probably be impossible.

There was a similar case in France last year which Google lost but apparently has yet to reach the appeal court. Here is a summary of the problem:

If anyone searched for Mr. X's given name and the first few letters of his family name, Google would complete his name and suggest a number of suggested additional search terms, including "rape", "rapist", "satanist," "sentenced" and "prison," the court document noted.

The complainant was a convicted criminal who had served his sentence and probably felt this was unwarranted additional punishment (and he was not convicted of rape anyway).

I could happily live without autocomplete myself.

...
10:30 pm on Apr 5, 2011 (gmt 0)

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i HATE those suggestions, the dumb thing you can not switch it off anymore on .com version
12:28 am on Apr 6, 2011 (gmt 0)

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i HATE those suggestions, the dumb thing you can not switch it off anymore on .com version


I hate them too. My bounce rate soared after Google implemented it. People are being auto-suggested to my site but then they remember they were searching for something else. So if Google penalizes based on site performance, maybe they are partially to blame. I'm glad this decision was upheld.
1:04 am on Apr 6, 2011 (gmt 0)

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I've spent years building the integrity of my brand only to have Google suggest "Mybrand scam" whenever someone searches for it. The more successful my branding efforts, the more damage Google does.

The thing is, there is not a single web site out there that actually says my brand is a scam. Google creates a self-fulfilling loop whereby the more they suggest it, the more people search for it.

It's a nightmare. Make no mistake, Google is actively defaming me and thousands like me.

How difficult would it be for them to create a list of a few thousand negative keyword associations? Not difficult at all. They do it all the time. It would not have to be all-inclusive. Just make a start and investigate webmaster complaints after that.

I hope this court loss opens the floodgates.
1:30 am on Apr 6, 2011 (gmt 0)

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Wow. How could Google filter out every possibly defamatory suggestion? And who decides what is defamatory?

Then they will have to remove autosuggestion. Who decides? A jury or a judge does. It's not funny if your name is suggested as conman or worse.

"We believe that Google should not be held liable for terms that appear in autocomplete as these are predicted by computer algorithms based on searches from previous users, not by Google itself," the company said.

So I can program a computer to hack a bank or destroy a nuclear plant and not be held responsible? You programed it, you can un-program it.
1:41 am on Apr 6, 2011 (gmt 0)

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How difficult would it be for them to


Google has shown that listening to any outside suggestions on anything is EXTREMELY DIFFICULT. I'm not sure if they even have a customer service department.
1:55 am on Apr 6, 2011 (gmt 0)

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Over 'steerage'.

G is already steering people to where they want them to go. via #1, #2, etc.

They should get rid of autosuggestion. Whether by choice or by law.
2:08 am on Apr 6, 2011 (gmt 0)

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"We believe that Google should not be held liable for terms that appear in autocomplete as these are predicted by computer algorithms based on searches from previous users, not by Google itself,"


No matter which side of this your down on, thats one idiotic statement.
3:20 am on Apr 6, 2011 (gmt 0)

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Wow. How could Google filter out every possibly defamatory suggestion? And who decides what is defamatory?


They have already filtered most expletives (go ahead...check), so they can do the same with defamatory terms, with the help of their legal team. Otherwise, they should get rid of the whole stupid thing. It has increased bounce rates, like I said earlier. It has hurt everyone, including Google.
4:13 am on Apr 6, 2011 (gmt 0)

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How could Google filter out every possibly defamatory suggestion?

Simple, just let people type their searches in rather than trying to 'think ahead' of everyone for everything ... As if 'auto complete' is a 'deal breaker' for their search engine ... It's not, people searched before they did it, and people will continue to search if they remove it.

"We believe that Google should not be held liable for terms that appear in autocomplete as these are predicted by computer algorithms based on searches from previous users, not by Google itself," the company said.

Q: Who's responsible for this?
A: It's not us, the algo did it!

Q: Who wrote the algo?
A: Uh, we did...
4:44 am on Apr 6, 2011 (gmt 0)

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How could Google filter out every possibly defamatory suggestion? And who decides what is defamatory?


A judge:)

Personally I am glad to see this. I have worked with some people at a not for profit that was very legit and the same standard words were popping up for them as well - with 0 actual results returned, and the standard low quality 'stub page' anti-rep management site scammers.
5:56 am on Apr 6, 2011 (gmt 0)

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Personally I am glad to see this.

Yeah, me too. 'The algo did it...' is getting old ... Totally tired of hearing it personally, because they write the algo, and they own the algo, and they maintain the algo, and they make money off the algo, and without the algo they're nothing, and what their algo shows is ultimately their responsibility, regardless of whether someone else searched for something similar or not, and imo they really need to take responsibility for the algo they so dearly love, other than when it benefits them...
6:11 am on Apr 6, 2011 (gmt 0)

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I do not like auto suggest much (although it seems to have improved recently), but it should not be illegal.

It is, in fact, generated by the algorithm based on previous searches: it is not, in principle, any different from user generated content.

Should Google be liable if a defamatory phrase is shown in the SERPS? What is the big difference between "Mybrand scam" appearing as a suggestion or as a result?
6:31 am on Apr 6, 2011 (gmt 0)

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Should Google be liable if a defamatory phrase is shown in the SERPS? What is the big difference between "Mybrand scam" appearing as a suggestion or as a result?


Easy. Let's assume we are talking about a search for a particular company's name.

Google's auto complete will include the word scam in the search. The user will only get results with the word scam in it. These are not fair or balanced results.

Whereas, if the user just searches the company's name, they will get all types of results---some might say there is a scam, some might praise the website as the best thing ever. But auto complete basically precludes the latter.

I feel as if the user's eye will also automatically go towards the "scam" suggestion in the auto complete. I can give you an example of a popular, legitimate website that I'm thinking about that has this problem. I won't, though, as per TOS.

[edited by: MWpro at 6:33 am (utc) on Apr 6, 2011]

6:32 am on Apr 6, 2011 (gmt 0)

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"We believe that Google should not be held liable for terms that appear in autocomplete as these are predicted by computer algorithms based on searches from previous users, not by Google itself," the company said.


They wrote the computer algorithms, so there for they should be held responsible.
6:42 am on Apr 6, 2011 (gmt 0)

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I've never been a fan of auto complete... it assumes the searcher is an idiot. THAT'S what needs to be addressed.

If the user can't find what they are looking for they are either

a. Not sure what they are looking for or,
b. An idiot

Let it be on the user's head, not a algo-divination by the Great Ghod Google.
8:08 am on Apr 6, 2011 (gmt 0)

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travelin cat, looks like you are on your own.

As crobb305 said - they already filter swear words, and all adult terms.

Very very easy to filter out negative keywords - in comparison to creating a search engine algorithm that indexes and ranks a trillion pages don't you think?
9:02 am on Apr 6, 2011 (gmt 0)

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Google comes across as a spoilt little brat.

They put together a toy and, because they made it, it's the best thing since sliced bread. How it affects anybody else is not their problem. When told their toy is hurting others we see stamping of feet and rolling on the floor and the whine, "But how can the toy know it's hurting anyone?! It's not fair!"

Yes, Google, it ain't fair that just because you can produce a technology you don't need to have regard for the implications and the damage it can cause.

It shouldn't have gone to court in the first place. Google should have apologised to the person concerned, recognised that there is a problem and taken autocomplete offline straightaway (rather than trying to defend it).
10:37 am on Apr 6, 2011 (gmt 0)

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I knew this would happen within 5 seconds of seeing auto complete working - Google realy needs to start thinking about things from a real world pov.
12:41 pm on Apr 6, 2011 (gmt 0)

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Don't auto-complete if you won't stand behind the results.
1:33 pm on Apr 6, 2011 (gmt 0)

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They already had to remove torrent queries, and not a minute too soon. People may not have been thinking of illegal downloading, but when it's suggested and presented as something people are often searching for that lends it false legitimacy. The same thing goes for these scam searches: if it's on autocomplete people will tend to assume that's what everyone else is talking about with reference to the search, and you get a self-reinforcing feedback loop.

If Google makes a whitelist of allowed phrases for its autocomplete it invites charges of censorship and manipulation. But if it carries on with it as it is the scope for defamation is unlimited. You don't need to use words like "scam" or "rape" to defame someone, they could be innocuous words like "eats" and "babies".
2:03 pm on Apr 6, 2011 (gmt 0)

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Can you imagine how hard Google could get hammered for some of their BS if the right people (like some of the ones here) ever got to do the questioning rather than those who probably don't watch and understand G for a living?

Q: Who's responsible for the suggestions?
A: Not us the Algo.

Q: Why aren't Pron, S*** or F*** included in the suggestions?
A: We don't include those.

Q: Who's responsible for the suggestions?
A: Not us the Algo.

Q: So when it's to your benefit you take the credit for it, but when it's not it's the algo's doing, correct?
A: Uh...

Listen G ... We're not stupid, 'we didn't know it was being recorded', 'we don't do that the algo does', and all the other 'blah,blah,blah' side-steps for growing up and behaving responsibly get old ...

[edited by: TheMadScientist at 2:07 pm (utc) on Apr 6, 2011]

2:07 pm on Apr 6, 2011 (gmt 0)

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the scope for defamation is unlimited

Precisely so. Those claiming that all defamatory terms can be filtered out are plain wrong.

The only solution is to remove autosuggestions altogether. And not just from Google.

Search suggestions help you get the results you want faster... As you start typing, the search suggestions pane will open automatically and start to show you suggestions based on what you've entered.

All the rants against Google above presumably apply to their competitors as well.

The quote is from Bing.

...
2:12 pm on Apr 6, 2011 (gmt 0)

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Those claiming that all defamatory terms can be filtered out are plain wrong.

If they can't control their system, then the responsible thing is to remove it.

We've got an out of control train ... Cut the power ... But if we cut the power people those people won't get where they're going as fast and it'll slow the whole system down ... Only a few people will possibly get hurt this way and everyone else will be happy = Stupid.

If they can't control the train they build they should shut it down, not claim it's the trains fault for being uncontrollable...
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