Italian Court Finds Google Guilty of Defamation

Google has been found guilty of defamation in Italy, after the autocomplete feature on its search engine associated the name of an Italian businessman with the words "fraud" and "con man."

The court has ordered Google to modify its search engine methods in order to filter out potentially libelous results, the businessman's lead counsel, attorney Carlos Piana, wrote in a blog post.

"All I have to say is that it is by no means an endorsement to censorship, as notice to the sued company (Google) was given well in advance, the allegations of the complainant were fully discussed with them before even considering to go to court," he said.

When a person used Google to search for Piana's client, whose name has not been publicly disclosed, autocomplete would offer with his name the Italian words "truffa" and "truffatore," meaning "fraud" and "fraudster" before the user typed anything beyond his name. The complainant, who uses the Internet to promote his business, claimed the search results could falsely give potential clients a bad impression of him. Google has been ordered to pay the person 3,800 Euros ($5,500) in damages and legal costs.

The ruling, issued in Milan by Judge Roberto Bichi on March 24, rejected Google's appeal to an earlier decision in favor of the businessman. Bichi said the connection between the words and the person's name could lead people to "doubt the moral integrity of the individual" and "suspect him of ill conduct," IT World reported.

In response, Google said the following: "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. We are currently reviewing our options."