Google Sued Over User-Generated Google Earth Content In Israel

from the controversy-follows-Google-around dept

A few years back, there was a bit of a controversy after Taiwanese officials got upset with Google for including Taiwan as a part of China in its Google Maps offering. When it comes to disputed maps and sovereignty, it’s no surprise that the map makers are drawn into regional conflicts on which they wish they could remain neutral. Now that Google is increasingly allowing user generated content to appear on Google Earth and Google Maps, things get even more confusing. In fact, reader Jason writes in to let us know of a brewing controversy, where a town in Israel is suing Google over a note placed on Google Earth by a user, suggesting that the town itself was built on the ruins of a Palestinian town, whose residents were forced out. The people in the town deny this, and say that the land was barren and uninhabited when they arrived and built the town following World War II.

No matter what your opinion on the history of the land, it’s difficult to see how Google is liable. The person who created the note is easily identified. In fact, the AP reporter spoke to him, and he noted that he would gladly change the note on Google Earth if presented with more evidence that the Palestinian town was actually located elsewhere. Either way, it’s hard to see how anyone really benefits from this particular argument or lawsuit. Google merely provided the platform, and arguing (and suing) about what town existed where at what point hardly seems like a productive path for anyone. Still, don’t be surprised to see other complaints lodged against Google for content found on Google Earth. People tend to take things like maps pretty seriously, which is why there are occasional wars over how those lines are drawn. By opening up the possibility of “virtually” drawing lines however people want, Google is opening the door to quite a bit of animosity within certain disputed regions. One would hope that people would recognize there are more productive issues to focus on — but that seems unlikely.

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Comments on “Google Sued Over User-Generated Google Earth Content In Israel”

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44 Comments
Devil's Advocate says:

Self righteous?

What if I went on Wikipedia and changed the entry for “Wired.com” to some defamating description, and for some reason Wikipedia refused to remove it?
Who do you think Wired would sue then, huh Mike?

With the internet becoming a substantial source of so-called “academic” grade information people turn to big popular sites such as Wikipedia and Google’s various sites for validated serious information. Sure, the notes are properly labeled and people can figure out these are *user* additions but most people will just take unmoderated information as facts.

Which do you think is worse – entirely unbelievable sites spreading obvious lies, or famous trustworthy sites allowing disputed facts to be spread under their supposed supervision?

DittoBox says:

Re: Re:

The KKK lynched not just blacks but jews as well. So if America supports jews and Israel how does that make us all members of the KKK?

I’m a little confused by your logic. Unless of course you’re basing your opinion off of emotionally charged bull crap and completely ignoring history to further your ignorant political ideology.

I do think America should “go home” from most of the places that our empire currently resides however I also feel that people such as yourself should have a sane, reasoned argument for such an opinion.

Better to leave people wondering if you’re a fool than to open your mouth and remove all doubt.

JB says:

No Recourse

On Wikipedia if someone posts false or misleading information, anyone can correct it. On Google Earth it appears that only the original poster can fix incorrect information, with no other way to correct it if the original poster refuses to fix it.

I guess it is Google’s prerogative to not fix errors, but how can I trust that site, knowing that they allow incorrect data to remain, even after being notified that it is incorrect?

It’s a shame that it requires a lawsuit to get Google to fix their own site. If it was my site I would want the data to be accurate. I don’t understand putting “user-generated” ahead of “accurate”. That’s OK for a cesspool like MySpace, but a reference resource should not allow it.

whu? says:

Re: No Recourse

um, if you don’t want to view the user generated content in google earth, uncheck it, so it doesn’t show up, or just don’t use google earth. There are plenty of other mapping services out there.

Instead of whining that Google won’t change it (why should they?) why don’t you go make a post for the same spot supposedly correcting the information.

BTR1701 (profile) says:

Re: No Recourse

> how can I trust that site, knowing that they
> allow incorrect data to remain, even after being
> notified that it is incorrect?

That’s your prerogative as a consumer. If Google is unreliable, then it’s your choice not to trust them and go find your information elsewhere. If enough people do that, then Google will realize it’s in its best interests to maintain quality and fix the problem itself with no need of government interference.

It’s certainly not the proper place of the government or the courts to be policing private web sites to maintain accuracy– especially web sites that are free of charge to access. (If Google charged money for access to Google Maps, an argument– albeit a very weak one– could be made for fraud if the maps were full of inaccuracies. But by providing access for free, even that shaky argument evaporates.)

> It’s a shame that it requires a lawsuit to get
> Google to fix their own site.

Yes, it is a shame, but not for the reason you probably mean. It’s a shame that we’ve gotten to the point where people expect the government to police private web sites for accuracy. Google owns Google Maps and they should be able to put whatever they like on their site without some government bureacrat or meddling judge telling them otherwise.

If the information is truly defamatory, let the aggrieved party prove it in court by a preponderance of the evidence and then recover damages from the *actual person* who posted the libelous content. That’s the way it works in the non-Internet world and not one person has ever offered me a rational argument why it shouldn’t work in the world of the internet as well.

Dan Wood (user link) says:

@Devils Advocate

It’s not Google’s fault or responsibility to track and prove the validity of the information. Google is not promising that everything they present is gold-plated undisputed Truth. This lawsuit is probably just another stone thrown in a long and boring holy war, but regardless, just because it’s printed in black and white does not make something true. That’s as good a rule of thumb now as it was in the time of newspapers.

Caveat emptor. Just like on Wikipedia, it’s up to the reader to conduct further research. But you know, when you think about it, it’s really funny that people think there were EVER ANY sources of gold-plated undisputed Truth.

Yosi says:

Re: @Devils Advocate

“It’s not Google’s fault or responsibility to track and prove the validity of the information. “

Yes it is. You confused Google vs. Wikipedia. It’s not about “undisputed Truth”, it’s about expressing opinion.
And since it’s called “Google Earth”, it’s pretty clear who’s opinion we’re talking about. Call it “Community Earth” or “Wiki-Earth” – than we’ll talk. As long as you put your name on it – you bear responsibility over it’s content.

BTR1701 (profile) says:

Re: Re: @Devils Advocate

> As long as you put your name on it – you
> bear responsibility over it’s content.

Not legally, which is all that matters.

There’s no law that says “If you publish a map and provide it to the public for free and allow people to annotate it, you are responsible for policing the content of those annotations for accuracy and are liable for any defamtory content contained in those notes.” Such legal liability simply doesn’t exist, at least not in the USA. In fact, the safe harbor provisions of the DMCA say exactly the *opposite* is true.

Let’s take this off the internet and into the real world: if I create a huge map of the USA and erect it in a public square and say, “Everyone is free to look at this map and stick Post-It notes on it with their comments”, it certainly isn’t my legal responsibility to then walk around all day verifying that the information in every Post-It note is accurate. Neither will it be my responsibility if someone sticks a Post-It note on the map that defames someone else. The legal liability for the defamation rests with the person who stuck the note on the map. Not me.

Shun says:

Freedom of Speech or something similar

I’m with #11. If you see something you don’t like on the internet, the process of correcting misleading information should not start with the banning of such. That only leads to the “Streisand effect”. The best thing to do is to make another note. Considering the politically charged implications of this, Google is going to have to use quite a bit of legal legerdemain in order to overcome charges of bias.

Still, I’m wondering: who has standing to sue Google about this? Are the residents of the town actually harmed? Don’t you need to show harm in order to win at libel? Also, the truth is the ultimate defense. You can sue the original note poster, but what if his evidence is more convincing than the evidence on the other side? Will the townspeople let the note stand?

I just don’t see what anyone has to gain by suing Google. Google did not create the earth, or national boundaries. They are just showing you what can be done with the tools. Besides, from far enough up in the sky, it all looks the same. I guess it’s just too hard to imagine that we are just one bland, boring species.

I like to look at the tops of trees, and watch trees turn color in the autumn. But I guess I’m not the typical user. Most people are looking for black helicopters or the Loch Ness Monster, or some such silliness. Oh well, this will probably take the same course as any other argument on the internet.

BTR1701 (profile) says:

Re: Re: Freedom of Speech or something similar

> Standing. Answer: local municipality, which
> is actually stands for “residents of town”.

Well, if they file this lawsuit in the USA, they’ll almost certainly lose on several fronts. First, standing. If the town as a group is claiming defamation, then they have an almost impossible hurdle to overcome. “Group libel” as a legal theory is valid in the USA but the standards of proof are so high, that it’s almost impossible to win a case based on that theory.

Second, even if they beat the “group libel” hurdle, the safe harbor provisions of the DMCA explicitly absolve Google of liability for this very thing.

Google should have no problem getting this dismissed at summary judgment.

Yosi says:

Re: Re: Re: Freedom of Speech or something similar

USA,USA,USA ….can you stop please? FYI Google have offices in Israel, which means it can be sued IN ISRAEL.
Now some shocking news – we have different laws here. Even more shocking – we don’t have DMCA analog.
IIRC, in Israel, you can be forced to remove mentioned content from your site following local court order.

Hello USA people, welcome to rest of the world.

BTR1701 (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Freedom of Speech or something sim

> in Israel, you can be forced to remove mentioned
> content from your site following local court order
> we have different laws here. Even more shocking –
> we don’t have DMCA analog

Then Google can just pull out of Israel and be done with any market that has such ridiculous laws.

BTR1701 (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:4 Freedom of Speech or somet

> You confusing Israel with your local newspaper.
> Go ahead and “pull out”.

Not hardly. It’s not necessary for Google to have physical offices in Israel. It’s merely a matter of convenience for them. They could shut the offices down and still get by just fine. The Google web site would still be accessible to Israelis, but Google would no longer be subject to any of Israel’s ridiculous laws.

no, really, you're an idiot! says:

Rational is an idiot...

1. where did anything in this article state anything about America’s ties to Isreal?
2. That area has been in conflict since the dawn of time… you really think America has made any more impact than any other time…oh say… from early Mesopotamian conflicts through the 1948 and 1973 Arab-Isreali Wars and 1980’s Iran Iraq War?? It’s sad to see religions that are supposed to teach brotherhood and forgiveness be responsible for the most hostile area in the world.
3. I think you’re embarrassed not because you’re a neighbor of America, but because you probably sit on your butt all day taking for granted the freedoms you enjoy, and don’t stop to think of other people around the world that may not know what it is to speak their mind freely and vote to choose their political representatives. I certainly don’t agree with everything the American government does, and I’m sure there is some underhandedness that goes on, but I think they’ve done a hell of a lot of good in the past 200+ years to warrant some respect. WWI, WWII, End of Cold War, etc., etc. I hope you get off your high horse and realize that inaction is just as bad and that no government is pure. That’s why we vote and protest.
P.s. if you take one website to be the end all be all of truth, then you’re an idiot too. Do some research before basing your final opinion.

Jen, writer MembershipMillionaire.com (user link) says:

sue sue sue

I wish people would stop suing each other for matters that can be resolved by a simple apology or understanding. These days, it seems that suing is all people know how to do. Whatever happened to resolving conflicts in a peaceful manner through a series of talks and not through money? And I agree with you. I really don’t see how Google can be held liable?

Yosi says:

Re: sue sue sue

Apology? Understanding? WTF all this have to do with Palestinian propaganda?
And of cause, Google is liable for content placed on their site. It really doesn’t matter who has generated this content: user or subscriber or Google’s employee on his free time.

Now, you do know, that on same Google Earth “some” areas in Israel (and probably other countries too) are blurred as matter of state security.
So, if Google want to display maps – please make sure it’s not used as propaganda by extremists groups.

Arelar says:

Who is responsible? no one is!!

oh come on. Google is providing a platform and must take responsibility for it. If it is used for ill-concieved propoganda, then the same dynamic-duo that came up with the google search engine and ad-sense must also come up with some propoganda filters.
By the way, I (being an Israeli) DID in fact post some contrary posts to GoogEarth and guess what: it did not get posted.
The disputed tidbit of information, btw, has been spammed to almost every single israeli town on the map.
Google should watch out from becoming a pawn in the Palestinian propoganda machine.

WTF says:

WTF

I think there are more pressing matters in the world.
And I wasn’t aware that Google was responsible for the integrity of all world history and geographic boarders on a site/program that is used as a reference free of charge (unless you upgrade), not as stated law. You don’t like it, use Microsoft Livesearch, or Mapquest, or any of the other FREE mapping sites out there.
We should not allow any information on the internet unless it has been approved by a minimal number of nations of the UN. No more entertainment sites, no more blogs, no games, nothing but 100% verifiable fact. People live to disagree with each other, so we should remove any potential debatable material from the internet to make everyone happy.
PS… even if that note is erroneous, does anyone really care anymore… that area will always be in conflict because both sides are too stubborn to live together regardless of their religion. I thought religion was supposed to teach love and forgiveness… not believe what I believe or I’ll kill you.

Overcast says:

And of cause, Google is liable for content placed on their site. It really doesn’t matter who has generated this content: user or subscriber or Google’s employee on his free time.

With that thinking…

I could go spray paint any manner of graffiti on your house or business – and you should be held liable. Or perhaps, just to keep it all equal, let’s say you have a ‘guest register’ at your business (the same thing, an open ‘forum’ for the general public to post in) and I decide to make a bunch of racist remarks in there. Should the business, who put the register out be liable?

Another mentions…

Google is providing a platform and must take responsibility for it.

So.. if there’s a town meeting.. I stand up and start slinging racist remarks – the town should be held liable? Or maybe a school PTA meeting, I get the floor and start going on about whatever – it’s the school’s fault, right?

Or – let’s say I call people at random and make various slurs and obscene comments to them – should the phone company be liable? Or maybe, I’ll just go into a store and start cussing and making racist comments – I guess it’s the store’s fault.

Why not? – in all of these examples the companies/organizations provided “a platform” for me to speak.

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