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Website found liable for Google-generated page summary

10:19 am on Jun 2, 2009 (gmt 0)

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A Dutch judge has ruled that a website is liable for a Google-generated page description, or "snippet", that may or may not give the false impression that a local BMW dealer has gone bankrupt.


Translated snippet:

Complete name: Zwartepoorte Specialiteit: BMW...This company has been declared bankrupt, it has been acquired by the motordealer I have worked for Boat Rialto...

According to Zwartepoorte, this snippet indicated it had gone bankrupt. But it hadn't gone bankrupt. So it sued the owner of the webpage.

10:35 am on June 2, 2009 (gmt 0)

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1. The suing company first asked the website to make a change.
2. They didn't, they got sued, and the judge then ordered them to make a change.

Interesting case - but not really that big a deal, IMO.

1:35 pm on June 2, 2009 (gmt 0)

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I find this case fascinating.

Thw website that got sued happened to mention the company in question on one of their pages.

The same page also contained the phrase "This company has been declared bankrupt" (in Dutch) - referring to a completely different company.

Google then produced a snippet containing both parts in its search results, separated by ellipses.

At no time did the "offending" site ever suggest that the company in question had gone bankrupt.

But a judge ordered them to change their page.

Now, if I make a page that contains two unrelated statements in separate paragraphs - as I probably do on every page I write - a Google search snippet might juxtapose them in the same way.

I might, for instance say in one paragraph "There is a highly respected contributor to WebmasterWorld who uses the name Tedster" - it would be an accurate statement of fact.

Further down the page in another paragraph I might say of someone else entirely "This man is a violent criminal with numerous convictions" - equally an accurate statement of fact..

Presumably a Google snippet for the search term "Tedster criminal" would show something like "Tedster... This man is a violent criminal".

In any page of text the possibilities are endless.

Apologies to Tedster for using him as an example, but if I had used the real name of any famous celebrity then it might open the door to legal action, at least in Holland.

The judge's ruling sets an alarming precedent.


2:01 pm on June 2, 2009 (gmt 0)

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I don't agree with the judge's decision but push come to shove, I'd use the nosnippet meta tag before changing the page contents.

<meta name="googlebot" content="nosnippet">
2:06 pm on June 2, 2009 (gmt 0)

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Very worrying indeed potentially. I'm surprised BMW didn't sue Google (you'd have thought they'd want to get their own back after the German ban).

But I find it staggering that whoever was instructed for the defence failed to demonstrate to the judge that Google aggregated the content and that it was their responsibility. I'm sure they could have generated lots of examples of this sort of thing themselves to show where the 'problem' lies.

Maybe BMW thought they'd have a tougher time with Google and figured the quickest way to deal was to intimidate the smaller fish.

Needs reversing badly.

3:52 pm on June 2, 2009 (gmt 0)

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'Tedster criminal' does provide some interesting results.

"Tedster said something on another thread about the immune system and ... What they are doing is clearly criminal but completely unprovable. ..."

The two phrases are not even close to each other on the page in question.


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