Google warns that defamation case ruling will force it to 'censor' the internet

midian182

Posts: 7,770   +79
Staff member
Why it matters: Google is warning that a 2020 ruling by the High Court of Australia could have a “devastating” impact on the entire internet, forcing the company to “censor” search results if a defamation charge is allowed to stand.

The Guardian reports that the case revolves around George Defteros, a Victoria defense lawyer who previously represented Melbourne gangland figures. He sued Google over claims that its publication of search results showing a 2004 article defamed him.

The article from The Age implied that Defteros had become more than just a lawyer for criminal elements but was also a friend and confidant, crossing professional boundaries. The piece also reported on the murder charges Defteros faced in relation to the killing of three men. Prosecutors withdrew the charges in 2005.

Defteros’ lawyers contacted Google in February 2016 and asked it to remove the article, but Google refused as it said The Age was a reputable source. The piece was eventually removed in December 2016 after it had been accessed a further 150 times.

The issue ended up in the courts and Defteros was awarded $40,000 in defamation damages in 2020. Supreme court justice Melinda Richards said neither the article nor the Google search result indicated the murder charges against Defteros had been dropped. Google appealed the decision, but the Victorian Court of Appeals rejected it.

In a filing, Google argues that “a hyperlink is not, in and of itself, the communication of that to which it links,” and that websites should only be liable if the hyperlink “actually repeats the defamatory imputation to which it links.”

“The inevitable consequence of leaving the court of appeal’s decision undisturbed is that Google will be required to act as censor by excluding any webpage about which complaint is made from its search results, even when, as here, the webpage may be a matter of legitimate interest to the substantial portion of people who search for it and is published by a reputable news source.”

In September last year, the Dylan Voller case saw Australia’s High Court rule that news sites should be considered liable for defamatory posts to their Facebook pages, rather than the posters themselves. This ruling led to some outlets blocking Australians from accessing their Facebook pages.

Permalink to story.

 

ET3D

Posts: 1,779   +415
The reasonable way for Google to go would be to work towards having a search return all the relevant aspects, like in this case both the article about murder charges and the withdrawal of those charges.
 

Dimitriid

Posts: 2,080   +3,983
I'm sure the gut reaction of many will be to come down on Australia. However to me, allowing a private entity like Google basically decide by itself what is and isn't a reputable source without accountability is worst.

I get that you guys probably only want to compare Australia to China and their actual, widespread censorship but as someone who repudiates all governments equally both east & west and of all supposedly different varieties, I can tell you that a government that lets private rich companies basically set their own rules is even worst since it's an even more unequal distribution of power in favor of billionaires and their international interests.
 

Theinsanegamer

Posts: 3,317   +5,507
As much as I hate google, they ar ein the right here. Australia has been going full-on tyrannical the last 2 years, using court decisions to remove any and all privacy and bending media to their whims.
The reasonable way for Google to go would be to work towards having a search return all the relevant aspects, like in this case both the article about murder charges and the withdrawal of those charges.
That could still easily be manipulated, as australia is more focused on censoring things they dont like, not the truth.
I get that you guys probably only want to compare Australia to China and their actual, widespread censorship but
Government censorship is one hell of a slippery slope, and after the last 2 years I dont want to hear anyone say "well thats just a theory".
 

wiyosaya

Posts: 7,474   +6,257
Gagme! What a BS, response. Censor the internet like not return everybody who has paid for a spot at the top of their search results list? Good for the court. Gagme are a bunch of hypocritical scumbags, IMO.
 

R00sT3R

Posts: 615   +1,804
The way these big tech companies try and operate outside the law, actually thinking they're above the law, is a sure sign that they long ago have been allowed to get too damn big for their boots, and need to be cut down to size.

..All comes back to the Clinton administration, allowing them to get away with it by declaring they are a platform rather than a publisher, which basically has given them a free-pass on their responsibilities.
 

Burty117

Posts: 4,459   +2,637
Declaring they are a platform rather than a publisher, which basically has given them a free-pass on their responsibilities.
So when you Google your own name and it inevitably just brings up your facebook profile or techspot profile or as is usually the case, someone else completely and nothing to do with you on the first page. Do you consider that Publishing?
 

waclark

Posts: 312   +201
I'm sure the gut reaction of many will be to come down on Australia. However to me, allowing a private entity like Google basically decide by itself what is and isn't a reputable source without accountability is worst.

I get that you guys probably only want to compare Australia to China and their actual, widespread censorship but as someone who repudiates all governments equally both east & west and of all supposedly different varieties, I can tell you that a government that lets private rich companies basically set their own rules is even worst since it's an even more unequal distribution of power in favor of billionaires and their international interests.
I have to agree. Just look at FB today and their incessant "fact" checking. I had a post once on FB that got their attention and they decided to slap their "fact" check banner on it. It was a freaking poem I wrote. There are NO facts to check. FB got to have their say on MY post and I didn't even have a way to rebut it.

That said, I do have an issue with Facebook, Yelp, Trip Advisor et al and the fact that anyone can post anything on those sites with little repercussion. I think there's a fine line between letting people post what they want and letting people post false and damaging information. I'm not sure I want FB, Yelp etc to be the arbiters or what's acceptable or not but there needs to be some sort of review process that allows people to show cause for why a post should be taken down. As it is today, it's little more than lip-service when it comes to reporting posts.
 

waclark

Posts: 312   +201
So when you Google your own name and it inevitably just brings up your facebook profile or techspot profile or as is usually the case, someone else completely and nothing to do with you on the first page. Do you consider that Publishing?
In the case of a Google search, no. In the case of a Google review, yes.
 

Avro Arrow

Posts: 2,203   +2,591
TechSpot Elite
WTF is wrong with Australia's legal system? I'm no fan of Google but the liability is clearly with "The Age". Google can't control what its search engine finds.

What's next, is Australia going to decide that only pRon involving kangaroos is reasonable as well? :laughing:

I really blows my mind because every Aussie that I've ever met was a great person to talk to and fun to be around.
 

Dimitriid

Posts: 2,080   +3,983
WTF is wrong with Australia's legal system? I'm no fan of Google but the liability is clearly with "The Age". Google can't control what its search engine finds.

Minor pedantic correction: They can and they do. Both explicitly and thinly veiled (But nonetheless veiled) advertising results as well as the actual result order.

I am not saying this is explicitly what's argued in the case (Doesn't seems like it) or that it should weight heavily or how heavily whenever or not a result is buried, shown as normal, Google promotes it (Something we know sites can do) or Google chooses to remain willfully ignorant to intentional manipulation tactics like getting a bunch of bots to search for it (Or even more low tech, some exploitative contact center of actual people getting paid very little to manually search it repeatedly to gain the algorith, a practice that sadly it's still common on weaker economies around the world) I am not taking a more specific position.

In fact you're welcome to argue *any* of the points I just brought up are ultimately not important to the overall decision idgaf honestly, but it should be clarified that Google not only alters search engine results, but has a business model that depends on it.
 

brucek

Posts: 1,103   +1,618
Normally truth is an absolute defense to defamation. The article to which Google linked actually exists and was actually published. There are people -- such as the very defamation lawyer who is suing Google -- who have legitimate need to find that article.

The court attaching responsibility to Google is just a case of deep pocket litigation. The obvious source of the problem and the obvious remedy is to fix or remove the original article. Focusing on Google does not fix the root issue and IMO opens up many more troubling issues than it solves.
 

messy

Posts: 29   +51
TechSpot Elite
Criminalizing hyperlinks is one of the most ******* things of this century. This isn't the first time.

It's my opinion that a link should in all cases be protected.
If the destination of the link is a problem - go to the actual content and content-holder. Just because that might be more difficult does not give license to go after something that is not the actual problem.
 

tellmewhy

Posts: 179   +86
Australia's population is 25 million, nothing compared to the billions used by Google. So Google has to remove Australian ip access to the site (and YT) until they change the law. Otherwise, Australians will have to pay for vpns if they want to use Google or use Bing.
The Australian government will be very "happy" with the use of 100% vpns and 100% reduction in voter popularity :)
It will be a huge promotional event and for Google, the whole press around the world will talk about it.
 

Watzupken

Posts: 570   +475
Whoever wins, is a lost for the users in my opinion. For neither the AU government, nor Google really have their people/ users in mind.
 

Impudicus

Posts: 259   +259
As much as I don't like Google, I don't think they should have to remove articles. The articles exists, they were written, published. Regardless of how reputable the source is, it's not for google to decide on such a subjective classification.
 

waclark

Posts: 312   +201
Yep, ok, and this article is all about a Google search on someone. So it's not publishing.
The only thing I would say is this, when Google returns data from a search request how do they ensure it's accurate and not libelous?

On one hand, if they aren't the publisher then I don't see how they can attach any commentary to the info. For example, Facebook posting fact check banners across my posts now makes them a publisher, in my opinion. In other words, they are editorializing my post and that makes them a publisher.

But you also have to consider that we don't want to propagate factually inaccurate information and there needs to be a way to prevent that.
 

Burty117

Posts: 4,459   +2,637
The only thing I would say is this, when Google returns data from a search request how do they ensure it's accurate and not libelous?
They literally just link you to something someone else has posted. It would be impossible to check the entire internet is accurate.
On one hand, if they aren't the publisher then I don't see how they can attach any commentary to the info. For example, Facebook posting fact check banners across my posts now makes them a publisher, in my opinion. In other words, they are editorializing my post and that makes them a publisher.
And now your argument completely falls down. First you want Google to ensure whatever its linking is accurate, then if they did mark it as accurate or not, you'd point the finger at them as the publisher?
But you also have to consider that we don't want to propagate factually inaccurate information and there needs to be a way to prevent that.
Well I think COVID and 5G has shown how easily misinformation passes through. You haven't thought about your argument though. You're having a go at Google for "publishing" a hyperlink if it was marked as "inaccurate" but if they didn't mark it (and therefore, in your world, aren't "publishing" it) then enough isn't being done.

Have you ever tried using the internet without a search engine?
 

waclark

Posts: 312   +201
They literally just link you to something someone else has posted. It would be impossible to check the entire internet is accurate.

And now your argument completely falls down. First you want Google to ensure whatever its linking is accurate, then if they did mark it as accurate or not, you'd point the finger at them as the publisher?

Well I think COVID and 5G has shown how easily misinformation passes through. You haven't thought about your argument though. You're having a go at Google for "publishing" a hyperlink if it was marked as "inaccurate" but if they didn't mark it (and therefore, in your world, aren't "publishing" it) then enough isn't being done.

Have you ever tried using the internet without a search engine?
Yes, I am mixing metaphors a bit here. In Google's case, however, they are not simply presenting hyperlinks. They are prioritizing which links appear on top and those that appear on page 2. So they are having some input as to how those links are presented. One wonders what links are being ignored or tossed aside in order to present the results. Here's an example. I Googled Jan 6 Capitol Riot. 6 pages in I do not see a single link referencing any Fox News regarding the riots. If Google is curating what gets presented in a search result then I'd say they are "publishing" the results. If it's a random, alphabetized list, then fine.

As for accuracy of information, I was really thinking more of FB because they do take a direct hand in determining what is "factual" and what isn't. The overall point, if you "publish" or editorialize posts then I think you bear some responsibility for that.