The above story, from slashdot.org, just reinforces my already solidified opinion that the world is ruled by stupid. This belief is fairly common to those of us who work in IT; it’s reaffirmed each and every damn day.
If you’re unfamiliar with the story, here’s the /. summary:
Google has been found liable in an Italian court for defamatory comments made against an anonymous plaintiff — the complainant’s name, when googled, elicited autocomplete suggestions that translate as ‘con man’ and ‘fraud.’ Google was found not to qualify for EU ‘safe harbour’ protection because the autocomplete suggestions were deemed to be Google’s own creation, and not something merely passing through its systems.
Riiiiight… here’s the problem, though: Google’s autocomplete suggestions are essentially user-generated content. If people commonly search for your name along with the terms ‘con-man’ and ‘fraud’, those are going to show up in autocomplete. That’s how the (excellent) algorithm works. The bigger problem comes down to this: in most (civilized) countries, courts have held that blogs are not responsible for the content of user-generated content, i.e., comments, etc. Copyright infringement is one thing, but short of a DMCA takedown notice, if someone comments on your blog that “Bill O’Reilly is Hitler’s lovechild,” that opinion is owned by the commenter, not the blogger. This ruling is essentially making (in Italy) user-generated content the responsibility of the site operator. OK, a search algorithm is not a blog. And I don’t know the specifics of the case. And IANAL. But this much is clear:
- Italian courts are offensive to the notion of justice. Far be it from me to defend the way the United States does anything, but I think most people will agree that any civilized notion of justice affords the accused the right to challenge the accuser to his/her face. Otherwise, we get secret military tribunals, Gitmo, and… oh, wait, I’m just defending the way the US used to do things. I feel better.
- An algorithm is not an act of volition. Libel should require intent, or at least gross negligence.
- Italy is fucking with my lulz. Srsly, have you seen some of the funny crap that comes up with autocomplete on Google search? I work in IT. I need my autocomplete-me’s on failblog.org to get through the day. If frivolous, retarded lawsuits like this eff that up, I’m going to blow a damn gasket.
- Fuck Italy. When China wanted to mess up Google’s mojo, they just shut down their China operation. If I were Larry Page right now, I would immediately shut down google.it and tell the Italian courts to suck it. If Egypt and Libya have proven anything, nothing pisses off a populace like fucking with their interwebz. Maybe the Italian people will revolt, hang the judges from the highest rafter, and institute a slightly less-retarded government. Here’s hoping.
Yes, this post has been over the top, hyperbolic, even. But really, Italy? Defamation by autocomplete? I hope Google removes ever .it entry from their free DNS service, shuts down google.it, and sends your tech sector back to 1997. Because this is some fucked up shit.