Duffy v Google 1

Suing Google: What happened?

  • In 2006 I suffered from a major depression that lasted four years. At the time I was unaware that this depression had a physiological cause – menopause. In 2006 the medical evidence was embryonic, and it took four years to obtain a proper diagnosis and treatment. In late 2010 I was prescribed bioidentical hormones and the ‘black’ depression lifted. However, I was then faced with dealing with the serious false and defamatory content that was indexed at the top of Google searches for my name.
  • My introduction to what I later realised was a scam website derived from an attempt to find some sort of help to alleviate the crushing depression because pharmacological treatments were not only ineffective but had severe side effects. In 2006 that website offered experts in all fields including counselling, life coaching and spiritual guidance as well as the teaching and medical fields.
  • What I did not know at the time was that the Kasamba website employed experts that were not required to provide proof of any qualifications, fiddled the ratings, shared information about clients on the platform and used a range of methods to scam vulnerable people.
  • After a few months I realised that I was being scammed and posted on the website Ripoff Report to warn other vulnerable people. Evidence of the range of online scams is widely available in 2022 but in 2006 ‘complaint’ websites that were fronts for extortion were supported by their high rank in the Google algorithm. At the time I thought the website Ripoff Report was a legitimate forum to warn others.  As I subsequently discovered, it was and is a Google enabled extortion racket and a hotbed of hate speech.
  • After I realised that I was scammed I started a support group. Some of the ‘experts’ on Kasamba concerned at their diminishing revenue because the support group resulted in victims realised that they were scammed. They obtained my identity and wrote webpages containing false accusations on Ripoff Report.
  • In 2009 and 2010 I was fighting constructive dismissal because I complained about bullying (of several employees) that was covered up by my employer (the Health Department of South Australia). My employer found the defamatory content containing, among others, false accusations of stalking, blackmail, and hacking and used them against me. I knew that it was an imperative to get the false and defamatory accusations removed from the top of Google search if I ever wanted to work again.

Attempted removal from Google

  • In 2009 and 2010 I sent several removal requests to Google. Some were ignored and I received three refusals. His Honour, Justice Peek of the Supreme Court of South Australia subsequently wrote that Google ‘treated me with contempt’ (Google Inc v Duffy SASCFC 130 4 October 2017 at [557]).
  • I discovered that Google was aware from at least 2008 that Ripoff Report is an extortion racket that refuses to remove false content to profit from the destruction of individual and business reputations. Moreover, Google also made millions of dollars from advertising on Ripoff Report. 
  • In 2013 a cyberbullying activist, Michael Roberts and I commenced an adverting boycott to highlight to Google and other servers the impact of the extortion on inividuals and small businesses.

Legal action against Google

  • In February 2011 I filed legal action for defamation against Google. I thought that Google would just remove the defamatory content and I could get a job and get on with my life. That is all that I wanted – to work, but I was very wrong.
  • When it was served Google partially removed some of the defamatory content, which proved that unlike the refusal replies they had this capacity. But much of it remained and visible at the top of a Google search for my name in Australia.
  • Google proceeded to use its vast economic resources to attempt to force my withdrawal of the court action. I applied for an injunction to remove the rest of the defamatory content and lost. In 2012 Google filed an interlocutory application to obtain dismissal of the court case and failed. This cost me tens of thousands of dollars.
  • Ripoff Report not only created many links to each webpage (in order to keep its high Google page rank), it changed the URL structure in 2010, 2013 and 2017 for the purpose of subverting Google takedowns and continue its extortive business practices.
  • Between 2011 and 2014 I continued to attempt to obtain permanent removal of the defamatory content, both through lawyers and through individual requests. I was unsuccessful. In fact, the defamatory content remained indexed on page 1 of Google and visible in Australia until late in 2017.
  • Also between 2011 and 2015 Google’s ‘deep pocketing’ legal tactics resulted in costs of around $150,000. Google instructed two law firms and their costs would have been much higher. I had no income because it was impossible to even obtain an interview with accusations of crimes published on the top of Google searches for my name. I had been living on savings for five years and just before the trial was forced to go to Centrelink. 

The first Google trial in 2015

  • The trial was set for June 2015. My lawyers had attempted to engage Google in mediation but after the search engine’s lawyers were told my legal costs to date were AUD $150,000 it declined to mediate (see Duffy v Google Inc [2016] SASC 1 at [39]). Google’s tactic was clear: It wanted to force me into giving up but I knew I had no choice because Google would have chased me through the courts into bankruptcy and taken everything I owned.
  • Eighteen days before the commencement of the trial I was told by my lawyers that they could not afford to run the trial. I had no choice but to attempt to represent myself. It was a terrible situation. I have never felt so afraid or so alone.
  • The two weeks prior to the trial were spent trying to work out what to do. I bought a spiral binder on eBay and churned out trial books (4 lots of 11 books). I tried to organise witnesses, particularly to refute the defence of truth, but many were afraid to give evidence in case they too had their lives destroyed online by Google. This was not paranoia and became an issue when Google doxed one of my witnesses after I filed the second matter and during the 2022 trial when due to the fear of reprisal by Google I had to withdraw an important witness.
  • The trial commenced on 23 June 2015. I had to walk into the Supreme Court of South Australia, alone, with no legal experience and face a barrage of high powered (and highly paid) lawyers instructed by a corporation with no financial constraints and were clearly out to get me. I was terrified and exhausted.
  • The trial was horrendous. Google were clearly out to crush what remained of my self-esteem by pushing their truth defence. On court days I would get out of bed abut 4 am, put on motivating music to literally wake myself up, and try to prepare for the day. At night I came home to look after my father and then would curl up and sob. One lunchtime I was crying outside the Supreme Court during the lunch break and the Google lawyers walked up and said, “Dr Duffy, call Lifeline”. I actually pleaded with them to stop and they told me to withdraw the case.
  • Google’s contempt for me was evident and this was all directed by Professor John Hennessy, the then Chair of the Google Board. As noted on this webpage, I had been writing to him for two years trying to alert him to the cruelty of Google profiting from the destruction of lives and livelihoods by Ripoff Report. I tracked the emails and he read every one!
  • During the trial I literally begged Professor Hennessy to intervene and ‘make it stop’. He read my emails and did nothing. I wonder if he derived some sort of satisfaction from reading my abject distress?
  • In fact, under his authorisation Google spent another seven years and several million dollars (presumably of shareholders money) trying to bully me into giving up. It finally admitted that Professor Hennessy was aware of Ripoff Report in the 2022 trial.
  • Despite the trauma of the trial, two mitigating factors provided some confidence. Firstly, the presiding Justice Blue was and is learned, honourable and fair. Unlike some of Google’s legal team their QC and town legal representative, both Adelaide lawyers, treated me with compassion and respect. It is not surprising that both lawyers were elevated to the bench after the trial.
  • In October 2015 I won my defamation case in the Supreme Court and in October 2017 I also won the appeal. But it was not the end of the matter, although it was the end of my career. Google continued to publish the defamatory content on the first page of its search results for my name. As the years passed so did any chance of moving on and getting back to work.
  • Unfortunately, the fight to clear my name was far from over and in 2022 I went to trial a second time over the publication of exactly the same content because Google did not remove it even though it was found to be defamatory. As I write this in January 2023, I am waiting for that second decision.
  • Google have spent several million dollars trying to force me to give up and, as it admitted in the trial, this is under the direction of Professor John L Hennessy, the current Chairman of Alphabet and a man who published a book with a whole chapter advocating for empathy in business.

The online abuse

  • Just before the commencement of the trial there was some media because a person taking on a powerful multinational corporation is news. I understood that and I always want to talk to the media, not because I seek the publicity (as Google have subsequently argued), but because I want my perspective to be published. I have found that the media have always been fair. Bloggers on the other hand have savaged me without even bothering to check the facts.
  • The extent of the abuse directed at me during the trial and after the decision and which continues today was unexpected. This included websites such as Techdirt that makes a living from beating the free speech drum and criticising any attempt to hold search engines or websites accountable, including for such acts as publishing revenge porn.
  • I received abusive messages to my website, was threatened with rape, had to deal with abuse from people who should know better including lawyers and, after Google doxed me by publishing unredacted legal documents with my home address through one of its shill websites, threats of harm were put in my home letterbox.
  • A local man commenced a campaign of harassment in November 2015 that has continued for seven years. This included putting up blog posts referring to me as an ‘ugly whore’. He has currently been summoned to appear in court for contravening intervention orders retraining his abuse of me and another woman, but it has taken more than seven years and a lot of effort to get to this point.
  • I expect further abuse after the forthcoming decision. Or rather, I am resigned to it. There was no choice: My life and ability to work in research was destroyed and at least by fighting it might put the issue of Google’s cyberbullying of Ausytralians on the public agenda