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Germany's Former First Lady Sues Google 164

Posted by samzenpus
from the search-and-sue dept.
quax writes "Bettina Wulff faces an uphill battle for her reputation. Her husband had to resign as Germany's president due to corruption allegations and has many detractors. Apparently some of them started a character assassination campaign against his wife. At least that is, if you trust serious journalists who looked into the matter and stated that it is made up. Unfortunately though for Bettina Wulff, the rumors took off on the Internet. Now whenever you enter her name Google suggest the additional search terms 'prostitute' and 'escort.' Google refuses to alter its search index."
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Germany's Former First Lady Sues Google

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  • by Mr. Kinky (2726685) on Monday September 10, 2012 @08:48AM (#41286639)
    Google should rethink their position. They should know that when and/or if they break European libel laws, then they absolutely
    • by Anonymous Coward on Monday September 10, 2012 @08:51AM (#41286659)
      The whole bottle ?
      • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

        by Anonymous Coward

        accidentally

    • by schaiba (2708709) on Monday September 10, 2012 @08:52AM (#41286661)

      Google should rethink their position. They should know that when and/or if they break European libel laws, then they absolutely

      ...will forget to finish their sentence.

    • by C0R1D4N (970153) on Monday September 10, 2012 @08:52AM (#41286665)
      If the EU really wants to force the issue, google can just threaten to withdraw from Europe. We will see how well that goes over with the people.
      • If the EU really wants to force the issue, google can just threaten to withdraw from Europe. We will see how well that goes over with the people.

        The European market is to big and to important for a company like Google to withdraw from it over such a small thing.

        They didn't pull out of Europe after the Streetview fiasco, why should they now?

        Plus, this isn't an EU wide thing but only effects Germany.

        • by C0R1D4N (970153)
          That is why I said threaten to. They would never have to back it up.
          • by Tom (822)

            Their bluff would be called, and the amount of credibility it costs them would be considerable. Basically, it would be the last time ever they threaten anything and someone believes them.

          • by sjames (1099)

            They might, for a few days, but doing so would set the bar for making legal demands on Google again QUITE high.

        • by HiThere (15173)

          What the should do is just block all searches that refer to her. No editorial distinction between whether it lauds her or scorns her. Just mention her is enough.

      • by Tom (822) on Monday September 10, 2012 @10:49AM (#41287643) Homepage Journal

        *sigh*

        It's getting old.

        Any CEO who pulled such a stunt would be kicked out and sued into oblivion before the ink is dry. Europe is bigger than the US, you don't pull out of there unless you have a business suicide wish.

        • They wouldn't have to not service Germany, just don't have any offices there. Then they can let the German government decide if they want to block google, or not.

          • by Tom (822)

            You have no idea how business and laws work, do you?

            Offices don't matter one bit. If Google wants to do business in Germany, it needs to abide by german law. And trust me, Google wants to do business in Germany. Google keeps the numbers secret, but estimates say it's roughly 2 billion $ per year, that's 1/8th of Google's world-wide revenue.

            Big players like this don't play chicken. Google will never pull out of Germany and Germany will not block Google. There will be talks and negotiations and some compromis

            • I'm not an expert, no, but I do have a fair amount of knowledge.

              For example, I have enough to know that a company that has no presence inside a country does not have to abide by its laws, including Germany. Now Germany could for example make it difficult for German companies to do business with google, but even that would be difficult. Most of google's revenues come from serving ads and adwords, etc, so unless google has "offices" (including buildings serving content), I'm not exactly sure how Germany wou

                • And google has an office with 13 people in it in Hamburg Germany? Yes, it would be impossible to move that many people to a location just over the border.

              • by Tom (822)

                I'm sorry, but you do have no idea.

                First, yes as someone pointed out, Google not only has offices in Germany (more than one, I think), it actually has a german subsidiary. Yes, that could be moved, however, it is almost certainly the legal partner of all existing contracts, which makes things quite a bit more complicated than moving a few small offices.

                Second, Germany is part of the EU which has a common market and quite a bit more. If you think you can move just across the border and you're out of reach, y

              • Over some silly woman is trying to censor the internet?

                Sorry, that spot is still taken by Ursula von der Leyen

        • However this is about germany, and germany is much smaller than the US.

          I still don't know that it would be a good idea to close your door on about 82 million potential users (germany's population according to google)

          • by Tom (822)

            But Germany is part of the EU and one feature of the EU is the common market. It is quite difficult to pull out of one country and not the others.

      • by prefec2 (875483)

        Google could also shoot themselves in the foot. Beside that, if Google loses the case in Germany then they have to filter for German users. This has no direct implication for the rest of the EU. It is like suing someone in Kansas, that has no direct effect on an US federal level or an (direct) effect on Canada.

        Ob a side note: Misses Wulff just tries to promote her new book. So don't worry.

    • by verbatim (18390) on Monday September 10, 2012 @08:57AM (#41286713) Homepage

      If it's libel to say that "when searching for X, people have commonly searched for X+Y" where Y is unkind towards X, then you may want to rethink your notion of libel. If Europeans don't like free speech, then they absolutely

      • If Europeans don't like free speech, then they absolutely

        We do like free speech, but we do admit that there are limits. Libel is one of those.

        • by mypalmike (454265)

          It is not libelous to claim that "When people search for Bettina Wullf, they often search for 'Bettina Wulff prostitute'" if it is factual. That is the only claim google makes as inferred from its search engine. Facts are not libelous, and if you think they are, then you are absolutely

          • I was only replying to the sentence I quoted.
            Personally I do think that Google should not change their suggestions.

            • by verbatim (18390)

              I will happily admit that my "If Europeans..." line was both incomplete and merely a ruse to poke fun at the

      • by arose (644256)
        If the results are to be speech (and protected accordingly), they certainly can be libel as well. If not, you are the one who needs to rething your notion of libel.
        • by verbatim (18390)

          Facts are not libel, the truth is an absolute defense.

          Free speech implies that you have a backbone and are willing to accept speech that makes you uncomfortable.

          If Google can show that people frequently combine those terms, then there is no libel. To prevent such factual statements as a matter of law is a hinderance to the very essence of free speech.

    • by slashmydots (2189826) on Monday September 10, 2012 @09:50AM (#41287051)
      I don't know if you and she know this but Google isn't hosting the content. They're just showing you that other websites are hosting the content. If she wants to go rage around the internet like a psychobitch, she should target the websites hosting the content. If they're gone, the listings magically disappear from Google too! Wow, amazing! Google makes exactly the opposite of a claim that what they're listing in their search results is guaranteed truthful fact so she should shut up and learn how the internet works.
      • Librarians shouldn't lie. We treat them as disposable, so is google.
      • by chrismcb (983081)

        I don't know if you and she know this but Google isn't hosting the content.

        I don't know if you know this, but Google IS hosting the content.
        Google keeps track of what other people are searching. When someone else starts typing into the search box, Google will automatch it to other popular search terms that Google is hosting.

    • by Hatta (162192)

      It appears to me that Google is making a purely factual statement. Most people who searched for X also searched for Y. Is truth not a defense against libel in Germany?

      • I suspect what will matter is whether its clear that this is what the suggestions mean.

        If there's possibility of confusion that Google is in fact claiming these things, there could be a problem perhaps, but clarity about what the suggestions are really should clear it all up on a legal level, or at least I'd hope it would.

        • by Hatta (162192)

          Clear to who? Is Google responsible for making even the stupidest understand what their algorithms do?

          • Lawyers and judges don't like to be called stupid...

            • Sometimes the shoe fits. That said, Google and their lawyers would never say that, they'll have a much more diplomatic way of explaining how the technology works.

              We do get too many powerful people that legislate or litigate on technology issues despite not understanding anything about the technology, yet they feel plenty qualified to make such decisions.

  • by Unknown1337 (2697703) on Monday September 10, 2012 @08:54AM (#41286681)
    Google suggest is an interpretive algorithm using common searches, and mass information to 'guess' what you or many other people might be wanting to search for. If the information is out there or people commonly search a topic it SHOULD appear as a possible option. The words probably should be censored for the vast audience possible, but it's the source information that is at fault, not Google for collecting it.
    • by Bill_the_Engineer (772575) on Monday September 10, 2012 @09:01AM (#41286729)

      I don't think Google is as hands off as you say. I just typed Mitt Romney in the search box and I got:

      "Mitt Romney on issues"
      "Mitt Romney vp"
      "Mitt Romney tax returns"
      "Mitt Romney wiki"

      Judging by the commercials on television, I'd expect at Google to at least suggest some non-flattering search terms.

      • Somewhat true, Google has bowed to lawsuits and pressure in the past on their search suggestions, but they only list 4 options, which are supposed to be the most highly requested/available (both historical and taking current trends into consideration). In an attempt to make searching more 'convenient'. In another week or so due to the ads I would expect those sorts of terms to break the top 4.
      • by asdf7890 (1518587)
        They do at least have a profanity filter which is sometimes a little prudish, which would constrain some of the unflattering suggestions automatically. It Basically if a word would stop the auto-search-as-you-type operating, it shouldn't appear in suggested search terms unless one of your explicitly entered terms is already on the list.

        Another think that keeps other terms near the top of the list is astro-turfing. Gaming Google is a common tactic in political circles. They won't do it to try bury an oppo
      • There are lots of entertaining options to game Google's suggest with ...

        A couple favourites are "how do you", "why do women" and "why do men" ... the suggested questions are often quite funny.

      • by sjames (1099)

        I'm pretty sure Romney would rather not discuss 'tax returns' yet there it is.

    • by Anonymous Coward on Monday September 10, 2012 @09:04AM (#41286745)

      That'd be a fair and nice argument if they would apply these rules across the board. But there's quite a few cases where they've caved already, most notably to the lobbying from the entertainment industry. So they're at least making a statement that as an individual, you shouldn't expect them to alter their search index, but as a powerful corporate lobby, you can do what you please.

    • by antifoidulus (807088) on Monday September 10, 2012 @09:04AM (#41286747) Homepage Journal
      Yeah, but it's Germany, the masters on requiring certificates for everything.... A friend of mine was almost sued for reviewing a hotel in Germany. In his review he stated that there were bedbugs in the hotel he stayed at, and the hotel threatened to sue him. Not because they deny he saw bugs, but because they claimed he didn't have the proper qualifications to determine if the bugs in question were actually bedbugs or not..... They eneded up not going to court, but my friend had to hire a lawyer and they settled out of court, he was forced to remove his review. Only in Germany.....
      • by moronoxyd (1000371) on Monday September 10, 2012 @09:14AM (#41286815)

        Considdering that there are lots of websites where Germans rate hotels, restaurants and the like and tell their experience, and I don't hear a lot about all those people and websites getting sued, I guess that your friend was very unlucky. Or maybe the situation was a little mor complicated than what you told us.

      • by Greyfox (87712)
        I'd say ANY bugs in your bed in a hotel is grounds for a bad review! "Oh, I'm sorry! What I thought were bedbugs were actually Asian hissing cockroaches! I couldn't hear them hissing over the sound my wife screaming 'OH MY GOD THERE ARE BUGS IN THE BED!'" It was an honest mistake!
      • by Tom (822)

        Just like in the US, you can be sued for pretty much anything by pretty much anyone.

        Whether or not that case would've been laughed out of court or not - well your friend didn't want to find out, which I can understand. But there's nothing Germany-specific there.

    • by tempmpi (233132) on Monday September 10, 2012 @09:14AM (#41286813)

      Google is already censoring the auto-complete, just for other reasons:

      It will not suggest "adobe photoshop torrent" or "adobe photoshop crack", even though that these searches and similar searches are extremly popular. And it will not autocomplete "Rocco" to "Rocco Siffredi". So google is censoring auto-complete against piracy and against pornography, why exactly shouldn't it do the same thing to protect people against libel?

      • by Nemyst (1383049)

        Because whatever you think of filtering against piracy or pornography (I don't like either, but I can understand the latter for young children), it's fairly clear cut and simple to know what is piracy and what is pornography.

        How do you quantitatively define libel? Do you just remove anything that anybody claims is libel against them? That'll work just fine, right?

        • by Stanza (35421)

          it's fairly clear cut and simple to know what is piracy and what is pornography

          Actually, no, no it's not, and what is piracy and pornography can be considered widely different in different places.

    • by Troed (102527)

      Google has quietly expanded its list of censored search phrases with the addition of The Pirate Bay’s domain names. The blacklist prevents popular keywords from appearing in Google’s Instant and Autocomplete search services, while the pages themselves remain indexed. Although Google understands that there is no silver bullet to stop online copyright infringement, the search giant is convinced that the steps they’ve taken could help to decrease piracy.

      https://torrentfreak.com/google-adds-pi [torrentfreak.com]

  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday September 10, 2012 @08:56AM (#41286709)

    instead of just suggesting search terms like prostitute and escort, why not also mention the fees ?

  • by srussia (884021) on Monday September 10, 2012 @09:00AM (#41286725)
    Turns out Bettina Wulff is Barbara Streisand's half-sister!
    • OH NOZ! Now that that's posted on the internet, Google is going to get in so much trouble for it. Wait...
    • by prefec2 (875483)

      Nope. She is just promoting her book and her new promotion company. She had to something like this, because otherwise no one in Germany would have noticed that she "wrote" a book. All the tree-killing would have been a waste of time without that promotion ;-)

    • But she learned her lessons well....

      Hint: Those rumours were started the night before the presidential election (years back...) and now Bettina Wulff wrote a book.......

      Coincidence? Maybe.....

  • by jellie (949898) on Monday September 10, 2012 @09:08AM (#41286763)

    I'm not so sure I would agree with Google's typical defense on this issue, which is that they have an algorithm that automatically ranks all the search results and they can't change that. Except they manually change the results. When companies break their rules, they can punish them. For example, when BMW's German website was found to influence results [bbc.co.uk], Google banned them from their index. An eyeglass company, DecorMyEyes, verbally abused its customers to generate bad reviews ... and more publicity [nytimes.com]. After being published in The Times, they dropped the company from the index. Even in the Santorum case, they eventually made some results less prominent. Google has also been accused of pushing up the rankings of its own products. So it's kinda hypocritical to say that Google doesn't adjust individual results.

    • by gman003 (1693318)

      The difference is, those were banning specific sites. This is a request to ban *any* negative mention of a specific person.

    • Even in the Santorum case, they eventually made some results less prominent

      They did? The first search result on the word "Santorum" is for the Wikipedia page on the Santorum neologism. The second, reasonably enough, is for the homophobic jackwagon himself. The third is the "Spreading santorum" blog.

      After that you get links largely about the politician. The fact that the first link is still about the fluid, despite the fact Santorum spent most of the last year and a bit in an election campaign for presid

    • There are also the DMCA pulldowns. So yes folks Google already messes with their index. All the time.
  • First time I heard about Bettina Wulff. So maybe her attempt to repair her bad reputation is going to damage it further instead?

    On the other hand she could also benefit from a reverse Streisand effect. Surely a person everybody calls bad can't be that bad? There are a number of celebrities who actually benefited from getting "exposed" in public. Paris Hilton and Hugh Grant come to mind. They're much bigger stars now than they were before the scandal that outed them.

    • by aaaaaaargh! (1150173) on Monday September 10, 2012 @09:44AM (#41287009)

      a reverse Streisand effect. Surely a person everybody calls bad can't be that bad?

      What annoys me most about this debate is that there are so many people who apparently think that having worked as a prostitute/sex worker is so very bad and would somehow disqualify a woman from being the first lady. People and the boulevard press in Germany even went so far as to take the first lady's mature attitude towards better sexual education at schools as a clear sign of having been a prostitute, as if any of that constituted any real problem (rather than, say, hypocrisy or the moronic politics of her husband).

      • by Hatta (162192)

        What annoys me most about this debate is that there are so many people who apparently think that having worked as a prostitute/sex worker is so very bad and would somehow disqualify a woman from being the first lady.

        I'd argue that being the first lady is so very bad that it should disqualify a person from being a sex worker.

      • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

        by lcam (848192)

        I consider prostitutes to be more honest than politicians, at least you get what want, then you pay with prostitutes. Politicians hike taxes and then don't deliver on their promises.

        I think Bettina Wulff is taking a step down the ladder with her attitude, especially in the name of politics.

        • by rtb61 (674572)

          The question here is which Bettina Wulff. First she would have to prove her name unique. Should her name not be unique she should be cited for overweening narcissistic arrogance in failing to take into consideration all the other Bettina Wulffs. As her name is not unique it should be thrown out of court and she should offer an apology to all the other holders of the name for the arrogant attempt of taking globally unique ownership of the name.

  • The fact that the search suggestion appears is merely a reflection of the information that is currently out there -- whether factual or not. She should be going after the party(s) responsible for the character assassination (and Google can help, actually, to find the perpetrators).
  • Sue Google, but BING got the result.

  • She should be glad her last name isn't Santorum

  • Google's proper role is to allow their object algorithms to work as designed. Their job is to enable us to search the content that is out there; making special exceptions in response to silly complaints defeats that.

    Everyone knows the significance of the suggested search phrases. No reasonable person really believes that by displaying them, Google is uttering statements that predicate them of the entered phrase. In other words, no-one, including Bettina Wulff and her lawyers, honestly believes that Google i

  • The typical politician's response.

  • by Tom (822)

    Not mentioned so far:

    One, she has just "written" (no idea how much is ghostwritten) a book that is just coming out. The "discussion" about her past pretty much died down when her husband left office. Strange how it apparently got started with just the perfect timing, isn't it?

    Two, so what? I know several people who either have been or still are sex workers. For most of them you'd never guess, and the ones I'm close with are good people. It's one of those "scandal! scandal!" topics that have no reason going

  • by demon driver (1046738) on Monday September 10, 2012 @01:08PM (#41289539) Journal

    And it couldn't be more evident. Just two things:

    1. The event in discussion now dates back half a year. When it was news, Mr Wulff was still Federal President (an office which, in Germany, does not carry too much power; his main job is to represent the state) and struggling against the corruption allegations which finally made him resign. Back then, when it was urgent, Mrs Wulff did not deem it necessary to do or say anything at all.

    2. This week there is a book by Mrs Wulff coming to the stores titled "Jenseits des Protokolls" ("Beyond Protocol"), which is expected to tell a few stories from the couple of months her husband was President, including, of course, the events she is now suing Google for.

    Any questions?

    All this is of course exactly in line with what those Wulff people have already shown to be their character.

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