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Google Lost A Case In Italy Over Defamatory Autocomplete Suggestion

On Tuesday, Court of Milan has ruled that Google has to filter the auto-completions that Google Instant provides in Italy.

Lead counsel Carlo Piana wrote on his blog that the Court of Milan has upheld its earlier decision to order Google to filter out libellous search suggestions. These’re the suggestions that pop up in Google’s search input bar, proposing what the user might be wanting to search for.

The issue is that when people searching via Google for Piana’s client, who remains publicly unnamed, were apparently presented with autocomplete suggestions including truffatore (“con man”) and truffa (“fraud”).

The order (PDF, in Italian) is dated 31 March, although Piana only made its contents public on Tuesday. Google lost its bid to claim the protection of the E-Commerce Directive’s safe harbour provisions, which partly shields hosting and ISPs from liability for content held on or transmitted over their systems. However, the court viewed the autocomplete suggestions as being produced by Google itself.

“Google argued that it couldn’t be held liable because it’s a hosting provider, but we showed that this’s content produced by them (and by the way, they do filter out certain content, including terms that’re known to be used to distribute copyright-infringing material), although through automated means,” Piana wrote. “All cases are different, therefore there’s no assurance that similar cases would see the same outcome,” Piana said. He added that this case had “caused a lot of trouble to the client, who has a public image both as an entrepreneur and provider of educational services in the field of personal finance”.

In a statement on Tuesday, Google said it was “disappointed” by the Court of Milan’s decision. “We believe that Google should not be held liable for terms that appear in autocomplete as these are predicted by computer algorithms based on searches from previous users, not by Google itself,” the company said. “We’re currently reviewing our options.”


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