A French court has convicted Google and its CEO Eric Schmidt of defamation. Google’s offense? Google Search suggested the words “rapist” and “satanist” when someone searched for the plaintiff’s name. The court has ordered it to pay damages worth 5000 euros to the unnamed plaintiff who has a standing conviction in a case of corruption of a minor.
Now, it’s unfortunate for anyone to have their names associated with offensive search queries. However, that’s all it is – unfortunate. Its common knowledge that Google Suggest as well as Related Searches features are completely algorithmic (as is pretty much every aspect of Google Search). While I can accept that an algorithm might act stupidly, it’s hard to fathom a well educated and enlightened judge acting as if he has “no effing clue”!
The court’s argument seems to be that Google can be held accountable for the suggestions generated by its algorithm, since it has already admitted to censoring terms that involving pornography, violence and hatred. One again, it doesn’t take a computer expert to notice the gaping hole in that logic. Retrospective human intervention is an altogether different beast than a general broad censorship that is required to protect minors from getting exposed to adult content. If Google were to grant every request from every disgruntled user who shares a first name with a p*rn star, then very soon, that’s all they will be doing.