Google convicted of defaming French user
Google has been convicted of defaming a French computer user after the Internet technology giant linked his name to the word "rapist" in automatic web searches.
The convicted sex offender, who cannot be named for legal reasons, was found to have been defamed by the search engine’s “suggest” function.
Court documents said the function, which suggests options and phrases as a user types, linked the man’s identity to words including "rapist", "satanist", "rape," and "prison".
According to French reports, the man was convicted of the “corruption of a minor” and sentenced to three years in jail earlier this year.
Despite appealing his conviction, the man discovered his name was linked by the search function to the phrases.
But in what is believed to be a landmark decision, the Superior Court of Paris found Google guilty of the "public slandering of a private individual".
Google said it will appeal the decision, which also named Eric Schmidt, its chief executive.
The court ruled the man had been defamed because he is considered innocent under French law until all of his appeals have been exhausted.
The American company, based in Mountain View, California, was ordered to pay damages to the man after he sued for libel.
In its decision, handed down earlier this month, the court also ordered the company to remove the "harmful" suggestions from the search and adopt measures to prevent it from reoccurring.
The ruling confirmed the search function was not illegal. While the court awarded “symbolic” damages of one euro, it ordered the company pay €5,000 euros in costs.
The court also said the search engine had not showed good faith in the matter.
A Google spokeswoman said the company would appeal the French court decision.
She said the “Google Suggest” function reflected the most common terms used in the past with words entered and were not being suggested by the company.
"These searches are algorithmically determined based on a number of purely objective factors including (the) popularity of search terms,” she said.
“Google does not suggest these terms. All of the queries shown in Autocomplete have been typed previously by other Google users.”
The decision comes as Google fights a series of lawsuits worldwide, including several copyright disputes in other European countries involving its YouTube service.
The company is currently appealing against the conviction of three employees who were found guilty of violating Italian privacy laws.
A trial was told the trio posted footage on Google Video that showed a Down's syndrome teenager being bullied by four other boys at a school in Turin.
It has also been embroiled in an international privacy row involving its Street View mapping service.
In an interview last month Mr Schmidt, 55, predicted that in the future, Google will know so much about its users that the search engine will be able to help them plan their lives.
The company spokeswoman declined to say how many lawsuits the company was facing worldwide.