Could Your Website Be Liable For The Way Google's Algorithm Summarizes It?

from the that-doesn't-seem-right dept

Ruby writes in to let us know that a Dutch website,, has been found liable for the way that Google summarized the content on the website. Google, of course, has algorithms that try to summarize the contents of a page in a snippet so that you know what’s behind the link, and how it relates to the search that you do. As a part of that, it often will show parts of sentences connected by ellipses, and that’s what happened here. The snippet on Google read:

Complete name: Zwartepoorte Specialiteit: BMW…This company has been declared bankrupt, it has been acquired by the motordealer I have worked for Boat Rialto…

This upset Zwartepoorte, an auto dealer, who felt that this summary falsely stated that it had gone bankrupt… so it sued the underlying site. It’s quite surprising (on a number of different levels) that it didn’t sue Google as well (or instead). However, the court actually agreed that this was the fault of the original website owner, and told to fix the website so that Google wouldn’t summarize the site that way. It’s hard to fathom how this could possibly be’s fault, though apparently someone from suggested that it could control that in the courtroom — which likely resulted in the judge’s ruling.

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Companies: google

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Comments on “Could Your Website Be Liable For The Way Google's Algorithm Summarizes It?”

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Anonymous Coward says:

Actually it is fairly easy to control what google summarizes. One of the ways to assure that you don’t run into this problem is not to use “This company” in the same paragraph as another company’s info.

If they had replaces “This Company” with “Bob’s Car Parts”, there would be no confusion.

It’s a weird case, but if one of the defendants admitted they could control the summary, perhaps they could have acted to avoid confusion.

Brooks (profile) says:


…it’s an odd bit of liability, true. But it’s also true that the site could easily have changed Google’s summary by including a tag. Google honors those and uses them as summaries. They only generate their own summaries of that tag is missing.

So yeah, the site could have changed it if they had wanted to. I’m still not seeing the liability, though. It’d be like requiring someone to change their signage because of what a newspaper wrote about it.

Eric Goldman (profile) says:

Google Can't Be Sued

Google would be completely protected by 47 USC 230 for site descriptions, even if its algorithms select the snippets to put together. See, e.g., the Maughan v. Google case, and the Murawski v. Pataki case,

Even though a website can try to control its description through various HTML commands, the ultimate decision about which information to present is Google’s, not the individual website. So it would be ironic if a website would be liable for a description that it didn’t actually create.


Anonymous Coward says:


Did the client first simply *ask* for them to make the change? If so, was the answer something like “we can’t do it” or “we won’t do it”?

If so, a lawsuit was correct next step. And they sued the correct party. And the finding of the court was that “yes, it could be done” with a judgment of “do it”.

Not enough info to know. Would seem to me to hinge on whether the client asked for the changes and what the website’s response was.

I find it difficult to believe that the first reaction of the client was to sue. It’s expensive and, more importantly, time consuming.

I would bet there was a back and forth of emails first. With growing frustration on the part of the client that this was not being fixed.

Especially since the solution would have taken all of a minute to implement. And the only people in a position to implement it *is* the website.

This seems like it *could* be a perfectly reasonable case, but the details will tell.

Can anyone read the court case for actual details, rather than simply re-quoting already info-scarce articles and blogs? Following the links in the articles did not result in high quality data.

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