In June 2011 the Ballymascanlon House Hotel in Ireland filed legal proceedings against Google Ireland because a search for their name produced the word ‘receivership’ in the Google autocomplete feature. According to Google, the autocomplete ‘predicts and displays search queries based on other users’ search activities’. The hotel hosts weddings and this term next to its name cased major problems for its clients and staff. Google ignored or refused several removal requests from the hotel. An excellent overview of the case was published on The Open Algorithm.
Earlier this month the Irish Times reported that Google Inc had been added to the action and an application had been made to transfer the case to the commercial court. At that stage the autocomplete entry had been removed from google.ie but remained on google.com.
The case was settled on November 22nd 2011. According to Google they had not agreed to remove any terms. However the defamatory entry has has been removed from google.com. So is Google lying? I was told on two occasions that the defamatory links could not be removed ‘without the cooperation of the webmaster’. Yet some of the results (but not all) were removed from google.com.au after I filed proceedings. This means that Google were lying!
Google’s approach to removal is similar to its approach to privacy, copyright, freedom of expression and the provision of a level playing field: The company implements polices on an inconsistent and arbitrary basis and with the sole aim of benefiting its interests. This raises the question of what benefits are gained from the refusal to remove a search result? Could it be to retain legal leverage in a court action or is it just a method of power-mongering to bully people and small businesses? According to Google its business model is encapsulated in it’s statement on its philosophy.
It seems that this outcome is just another example of that pesky problem of corporate ethics that seems to have plagued Google during its rapid rise to dominance over the internet. According to the The US Department of Justice (DOJ) Larry Page, knew about the illegal pharmacy advertisements for several years before Google was busted. The response from Google was to pay a $500 million ‘settlement’ after it got busted (and, according to some commentators, keep Larry Page out of jail). Of course, the distribution of unregulated prescription drugs (the fastest growing drug problem in the USA) is inconsequential compared to Google’s mission to organise the world’s information.