Want to sue Google?
Issuing defamation proceedings was absolutely the last resort because I did not want to endure what will become a very public court battle. I just wanted to be able to work. However, after repeated attempt to facilitate the removal of what amounts to serious defamatory material the continuation of my life was not possible while the defamation remained online. My former employer found the defamatory material and it was made clear to me that continued employment was untenable. The accessibility of knowledge and information through the internet, and in particular Google, has revolutionised paid employment. The release of statistics on the impact of employee background on company revenue has caused an explosion in pre-employment screening. More than 80% of employers utilise the internet to conduct either formal or informal pre-employment checks and their first action is usually to ‘google’ the name of a prospective employee.
During the 18 months of unsuccessful attempt to find a way to remove the defamatory material from the first page of the Google SERPs, I communicated with other victims of Rip off Report including those from Australia. They faced the same barriers: Both Ripoff Report and Google ignore or refuse requests to remove serious defamatory material. The result is lost business and work opportunities and the effects upon all facets of life are profound. According to Roberts:
Typically, victims experience an initial shock reaction which may be followed by physical, psychological and/or financial effects in the short term and possible longer term effects on employment and relationships. In addition to primary victimisation resulting from the criminal event, an individual may experience secondary victimisation resulting from the way institutions and individuals respond to their situation and needs.
This was certainly my experience and I would not wish this on anyone. The two and a half years since my former employer discovered the defamatory material can only be described as an unmitigated hell.
This is a landmark case in Australia but one that is necessary given the global nature of the internet. The domains and websites on which the defamatory material is published are usually not hosted in Australia. Both Ripoff Report and Google claim immunity under the CDA. Since July 2010 the ‘libel tourism law in the USA prohibits the enforcement of foreign libel judgments in US courts, unless those judgments are compliant with the First Amendment.
Rip off Report taunts non-US businesses and individuals with these laws. Moreover, they provide almost insurmountable barriers to facilitating the removal of defamatory material. However, in 2002 an Australian High Court decision found that defamation occurs in the jurisdiction in which the plaintiff lived (Victoria), not where the material was uploaded (USA).
My advice to anyone considering suing Google for defamation is that it is an absolute last resort option. The stress is indescribable. After initially removing some of the links, Google have refused to remove the remaining links even though the lead to the same defamatory webpages as those that were removed. Since it would take them a couple of minutes to remove the links, I can only surmise that this is a case of power mongering on their part. It is cruel and sometimes I feel like I am falling apart from the inside out. After each court date I become ill and cannot function for days at a time. Moreover, I stop engaging in the few activities that I enjoy (such as the gym) because I suffer physical effects from the trauma. It takes weeks to regain any equilibrium.
Victims of cyber harassment often have thoughts of suicide and this has certainly been my experience. This is likely to be a protracted situation and in all honesty I am unsure if I can survive it. It is difficult to understand what a company worth $190 billion gains from refusing to remove obviously defamatory and destructive links. Google says it is ‘not the internet police’ but there is copious evidence that they make decisions about the SERPs to benefit their advertising model.
Update: November 4th 2011
Google ‘removals’ have now removed some more of the defamatory urls and snippets but only from www.google.com.au. This blog is still relegated to Cyberia. It does not appear in the Google SERPs for my name but retains a prominant position on page 1 of the SERPs on Bing and Yahoo.
Update: November 17th 2011
It appears that Google have set lawyers onto me who believe that resorting to telling a few ‘porky pie’s’ and humiliating the plaintiff in a court room is a viable way to achieve their aim of defending their client. It used to take me days to recover from google’s attempt to ‘make me go away’ by attrition but I am becoming tougher.
They seriously picked the wrong person. I did not stalk or hack anyone’s computer. I simply distributed information to help some people. The problem is that the website Ripoff Report uses its high page rank on Google for profit. It is actually quite liberating to reach a point at which it becomes clear that you have to fight back. In my case this does not mean through the use of abuse or underhanded tactics. All of the information is available on the internet. The task is to assemble it and this amounts to hard work on a daily basis.
Update: March 31st 2012
My lawyers had a huge win in December and the court ordered Google to submit a defence by the end of February 2012. Google wanted the claim struck out and we only ‘lost’ on one small point. We had to remove two words from our statement of claim. The Judge sent us his decision a couple of days before Christmas and I was at least able to breathe a little over the holidays. It appears that Google has difficulties with communication. Since their head office is in the US and their legal firm is in Sydney it was apparently very difficult for them to submit the defence by the due date. Maybe they were having problems with their Gmail! Perhaps they should have contacted Gmail support. We finally received the defence two and a half weeks after the court ordered date and after we put them on notice for a default judgement.
Update: October 2014
I have now been in litigation against Google Inc for more than 3.5 years. The defendants have tried to make me ‘go away’ by using tactics of ‘deep pocketing’. In 2013 they plead a US law defence. The defendants withdrew this defence in December 2013 at the ’11th hour’-just prior to legal argument on jurisdiction was scheduled for an interlocutory hearing. This year (2014) was spent trying to get full discovery from the defendants. We are back in court on this issue later this month. However, in the interim the documents from the criminal investigation were unsealed. The evidence contained in The State of Iowa v Xcentric Ventures is a game changer. Ripoff Report has been implicated in a range of serious crimes including witness tampering and extortion. This blog post provides links to the unsealed court documents.