I thought about the content of this post while cleaning up the yard at my house. When my parents brought this property (in the mid 1950s) what is now an upmarket suburb was little more than a series of paddocks. The ‘shed’ sits on the spot in which the peddle radio used for the Australian Flying Doctor service was developed by Alfred Traeger in 1927. Given my current litigation the irony is noted.
My case is not an anomaly in Australia. This is clear from the distressed posts in Google help forums and petitions. The effort required by Google to remove links to defamatory, offensive and racist material amounts to a few keystrokes. Yet, Google not only publishes this material with impunity but puts Australian advertisements on these webpages. In 2010 Google Australia removed racist material about our Aboriginal people after a number of complaints to the Australian Human Rights Commission. The link has been back online for almost a year. The website, Encyclopdia Dramatica publishes material that violates Australian laws on Racial Discrimination. Moreover the audience is comprised of Caucasian men aged 18-24 and this is a disaster waiting to happen.
Although I would never assume to speak for our Aboriginal people I have been informed that the response to their requests to remove it from Google was an outright refusal! In 2011 Google Australia did remove a racist video from YouTube but that was because they were sprung by local journalist George Negus on his (now defunct) current affairs show. The point it that Google Australia can facilitate the removal of material from the search pages but removes material on its terms while bleating about following local laws and/or promoting freedom of speech.
If a newspaper or television station published offensive, defamatory and racist material on a daily basis they would be sued in every court in Australia until hell froze over. In 2010 the then PM, Kevin Rudd raised the issue of appointing an Internet Ombudsman in response to reports of the difficulty of removing defamatory, racist and offensive material hosted overseas. This idea apparently fell off the perch with Mr Rudd.
According to the Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA) and the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) more than 95% of Australians use Google. If offensive material is removed from Google it is not viewed and therefore does not cause harm. This is NOT rocket science. Google will use the excuse that the material is still available on the web but so are websites providing access to child pornography and illegal drugs and its search pages do not index these links. Actually, Google only stopped advertising illegal drugs after it was busted by Federal prosecutors in the US.
The point is that it can prevent the transmission of illegal and offensive material but Google acts in its own interests rather than the interests of what it considers are annoying little national laws and individual privacy concerns. A case in point: Google removed this blog from the search pages for my name when it was first published and it was only reinstated after I complained about their censorship on a SEO blog.
Google is currently facing serious questions about privacy and its anti-competitive business practices in the USA and Europe. In 2012 the ‘right to be forgotten’ is intrinsic to the European legislative agenda on cyber rights. The recent report from the joint House of Commons and Lords science and technology committee in the UK criticised Google for its ‘totally unconvincing’ objection to requests to filter its search results.
The Prime Minister has spoken out against cyberbullying. Education and prevention initiates are useless if the material remains online because the effects continue unabated. Believe me, I know because I have woken up to it every day for over three years. Racism and cyberbullying destroys lives, including those of young adults and offends whole communities in Australia. The disturbed and disaffected are increasingly using blogs and websites hosted offshore.
In many cases even if the original author wanted the material removed the website will not comply. For example, Ripoff Report actually admits to publishing false material and taunts non US victims with the libel tourism law. Google is aware of this practice but seems to really love the website. It only takes Google a few keystrokes to remove a url. Maybe this Google love for Ripoff Report stems from all the advertising dollars is makes from putting Australian advertisements on webpages that destroy local small businesses and individual lives! Don’t forget that Google shares the revenue from advertising with the webmasters through its AdSense Product.
I question why our current government has ignored and/or demonstrated a marked lack of awareness of the ‘Google problem’. The leader of the opposition, Tony Abbott has convened a committee to investigate cyber safety for children. The Terms of Reference address reputation and privacy risks and exposure to illegal and/or inappropriate content. This has potential to benefit adult victims of cyber bullying and victims of online racism. The website Ripoff Report does NOT remove false and/or defamatory material. It charges thousands of dollars to ‘rehabilitate’ reputations. Moreover, this ‘service’ is not available to non-US residents.
Google has been aware of the appalling business practices of this website for some years. I sincerely hope Mr Abbott ‘gets it’ about Google. If he does it may be enough to convince me to cross over to the dark side and vote Liberal in the next Federal election. After three years of pleading with Google and the Federal Government, sending official and legal notifications and, for the past fourteen months, enduring the stress of Google’s defence by ’deep pocketing’ in order to be able to work, I have given up on the Gillard Government.