On 28 November 2013, Google received an ex-parte interim order from an Irish court to block the publication of a photo image of convicted solicitor Thomas Byrne which appears as a search result alongside the profile of Irish Senator Thomas Byrne, a solicitor himself.
Google considers it cannot be held liable for what comes up in its search results, as it only creates a snapshot of content that is elsewhere on the internet and this so-called “caching defence” is covered by the EU’s e-commerce directive law, allowing ISPs to not be held liable for being a mere conduit for information.
However, Google is no longer a mere provider of search results reflecting the content of websites elsewhere on the internet as it currently offers a range of products and services that bring additional information to users, such as the “Knowledge Graph” that brings together a number of information sources on the internet, assembling them for search results, allowing users to provide feedback on each result, including the option to cite specific pieces of information and including images as “wrong”.
Thus, associated to Mr. Byrne’s biographical information, mainly from Wikipedia, there was a photo of convicted solicitor Thomas Byrne, resulted from Google’s “Image Search” facility which ranked pictures of the latter first, and did not differentiate between him and the politician.
Although, Mr. Byrnes considered that the publication had been done without malicious intention, he went to court as he had made three attempts to contact Google to have the photograph removed, without success. He also stated that he had also tried to use the self-correcting mechanism on the Google site to remove the material but had been unsuccessful as well.
Mr Justice Paul Gilligan granted the interim order under Section 33 of the Irish Defamation Act 2009, restraining the publication of the image of convicted solicitor Thomas Byrne’s image “as a photo and description” of the Senator, considering the publication was clearly defamatory and that Google Ireland Ltd had no defence to the claim.
There are critical voices that believe Google’s facility is gathering content from thousands of websites republishing it as their own, “for improved user experience” and that, although for the time being, Google isn’t running ads against Knowledge Graph results, there is no guarantee that it will not do that in the future.
Google has ended up in courts also for its autocomplete facility and lost cases in Ireland, Germany, Italy and France where courts have held the search engine responsible for algorithmic results presented in its autocomplete facility.
Following the ex parte injunction ordered by the court, the photograph of the convicted Thomas Byrne disappeared from Google’s Knowledge Graph result. Google could have avoided a legal action if it had reacted to the senator’s direct requests.
Not the result Google was searching for (30.11.2013)
FF’s Thomas Byrne blocks Google’s use of namesake’s image (28.11.2013)
Giving Google More Data for Knowledge Graphs May Not Be Optimal (9.10.2013)