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Google Exec Convicted of Defamation for “Suggest” Feature

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Photo by Carlos Luna on Flickr

Photo by Carlos Luna on Flickr

A French court has found Google and its CEO Eric Schmidt liable for defamation because the search engine’s new “suggest” feature brought up “rapist” and “satanist” when users typed in the plaintiff’s name.

The plaintiff in the case had been convicted for corruption of a minor, although it was on appeal when he discovered that his name “suggested” the above-mentioned terms in a Google search. Google’s defense is that its algorithm simply produces the most commonly searched for linked terms, and that the company itself doesn’t actually suggest any words in conjunction with the entered search terms.

But the French court ruled against the search engine giant and ordered Google to pay the plaintiff 5,000 euros ($6700) toward legal bills and another euro as a symbolic payment. Google has said it will appeal the ruling.

This isn’t the first time Google’s “suggest” feature has encountered problems in France either. A previous lawsuit claimed defamation when the word “scam” in French was suggested by the search engine when users typed in the Centre National Prive de Formation a Distance (CNFDI); a French court also decided against Google in that case.

Overall, Google has been having a rough time in Europe indeed. Going back to the sentencing of three Google execs to jail in Italy, the company seems to face challenges from across the pond fairly frequently. Earlier this month, a French court found that Google cannot digitize French books without approval from the publisher and fined the company 300,000 euros ($430,000) in damages.

Is Google to blame for its algorithm? Should the “suggest” feature be more closely monitored to avoid further instances of potential defamation? Should the search engine be held responsible for complying with laws all around the world? What do you think?

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September 27th, 2010 at 1:36 pm

Posted in First Amendment

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