This post is a little inside baseball but bear with me…the implications are potentially important. Google (and other search engines) have always defended themselves against accusations of defamation by claiming that they are algorithmically and innocently aggregating and passing along content which other people have come up with as search results. When I used to work for a search engine we used to maintain (as did others) that we would only respond to instructions from a court with valid jurisdiction to remove content. Simply filling a complaint would not get us to change the results as there would lie madness…with a potential for us to be deluged with complaints. In the relatively rare cases where we did receive instructions to remove specific content we were happy to comply.
So it was with some interest that I read that Google has just lost a case in Australia where they received a complaint correctly filled out about their image search which implied that someone who was not connected with the Oz underworld was in some way a gangster. The court felt that the defense that Google algorithmically generates results was reasonable until the problem was brought to their attention. What’s surprising and important is that the court felt that them receiving the complaint (as opposed to a court ruling) and not acting on it n cases where that content is harmful or potentially defaming was in of its self harming. US law EU law is different to Australian. They won the case against the web results complaint on a technicality because the complainant wasn’t filled out correctly. Google is under attack in both jurisdictions on multiple fronts. It would only take a judge to see the logic of this case and rule in a similar way in the US or EU for all hell to break out…we will have to watch this space, this could be interesting.