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Google sued for libel

On March 25, 2003, Mark Maughan, a certified public accountant with the Brown & Maughan firm, googled his name and found some "alarming, false, misleading and injurious results" about himself and his firm. Specifically, he alleges that the search results falsely represent that plaintiffs Maughan and/or Brown & Maughan have e.g. been disciplined for gross negligence. The plaintiff's attorney, John A. Girardi, claims that the error was created because of Google's PageRank algorithm. His argument seems to be based around the idea that Google provides "snippets" of text from a website when it creates its search engine results listings. In his view PageRank "reformats information obtained from accurate sources, resulting in changing of the context in which information is presented."

To better illustrate this case, consider another example. My website features articles about several lawsuits. In some of them Playboy was the plaintiff. If someone searches for my name "Stephan Ott", it is possible that Google would list my website with the text snippets: "Stephan Ott ... Playboy .... illegally published copyrighted materials". Would any search engine user believe I'm a playboy that offers illegal material? Without clicking on the link to my website, I doubt it, but Mark Maughan doesn't. His lawsuit seeks an injunction to force Google to discontinue use of the PageRank system as well as requesting unspecified monetary damages. Yahoo! and AOL-Time Warner were also listed as co-defendants. Well, someone better tell the plaintiff that the PageRank algorithm only is one factor that determines on which position a website is listed within the search results (see Technical Background: Search Engines).

  • March 22: Google Sued Over PageRank, webpronews:
    "A man in Southern California is irate over the results of “Googling” his name. Mark Maughan, certified public accountant of the Brown & Maughan firm, believes the search results for “Mark Maughan” contained “alarming, false, misleading and injurious results.”

  • March 19, 2004: Accountant "Googles" Himself, Sues for Libel, NBC 4:
    "A South Bay accountant who said an Internet search engine returned "alarming" information about him and his firm sued Google, AOL, Time Warner and Yahoo! Friday for libel."



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