Wulff at the doors

Normally when you mention anonymous in the context of the internet you might think of hackers and campaigners in the Guy Fawkes masks from V for Vendetta. This time an anonymous German business has wreaked havoc with another global giant – Google.

The German businessman has won a case in a German Federal Court which means that Google will have to amend its auto-complete function on its search terms.  This might not seem much but it is something that Google has been resisting across the world. The court found that a person’s privacy would be violated if the associations made by auto-complete were untrue.

Previously the lower German courts had found for Google. In the past, Google has defended itself by arguing that it has no control over the combinations of words that auto-complete suggests. Instead, it said, these were automatically generated by the frequency with which other people were looking for such keywords.

This case could have repercussions for another case coming to the Courts in Germany where the auto-complete results for the wife of the former German President linked her to escort services ie. a case involving libel.  Bettina Wulff, thewife of former German president Christian Wulff, sued Google because auto-complete suggested words linking her to escort services. Mrs Wulff denies ever working as a prostitute and has fought several legal cases over the accusation.

The case could also have knock on effects for Google in other places. The Federal Court also stated that: ‘The operator is, as a basic principle, only responsible when it gets notice of the unlawful violation of personal rights.’ This seems to be a seminal statement counter to what the UK courts have suggested in but is joining something of an Australian trend (see Rana, Trkulja) of finding that a notification could be sufficient to make Google in some way responsible for elements related to search operations.

 

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