November 15, 2012 3:17 pm

Search engines like Google are now being legally recognised as publishers – and therefore liable for the content they display

Gone are the days of search engines playing the impartial observer. It seems every man and his dog is now out to sue Google, and with courts finding frequently in favour of the plaintiffs, the world’s biggest publisher is finally being viewed as such in the eyes of the law – and being held to answer for its content.

As reported in the Sydney Morning Herald last week, Australian man Michael Trkulja successfully sued Google and Yahoo for defamation because, after being the victim of a shooting in 2004, his name was linked on a number of high-ranking search results to underworld activity.

Specifically, Mr Trkulja’s name was connected with a Melbourne crime website (which no longer exists) and was also linked with Tony Mokbel, an alleged murderer and drug trafficker.

Mr Trkulja also won a similar case against Yahoo earlier this year (in which it was found that Yahoo was measurable by the same standards as any other publisher), with the search engine being ordered to pay him $225,000 in damages. The Supreme Court is yet to pass down a figure for damages in the Trkulja v Google case, but it would be logical to assume the figure could be even higher, given the engine’s wider reach.

Mr Trkulja isn’t the first person to successfully ‘Sue-gle’ (you heard it here first, folks).

As reported on The Message here, Bettina Wulff, the former first lady of Germany, had a rude shock when she discovered that Google’s autocomplete had created an entirely new and scandalous career for her resume. Typing Ms Wulff’s name into Google (which we did at the time of writing) returns the autocomplete suggestions ‘Bettina Wulff prostituierte’ and ‘Bettina Wulff escort’.

We’re also guessing that ‘Bettina Wulff Wallpapers’ isn’t referring to home décor.

Ms Wulff denies that any such profession is hidden in her past and has lodged a lawsuit against Google. For its part, the search giant denies that the autocomplete suggestions were its responsibility, as the site’s algorithm determines autocomplete based on the popularity of previous related searches.

In any case (no pun intended), the German non-prostitute is sure to be highly interested in the outcome of the legal case won by the Australian non-gangster.

As for Google, it may want to take a moment from defending all these lawsuits to have a look at what autocomplete is suggesting about it…


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