Australian Court: Google Must Pay Guy $200k Due To Image Search Turning Up Gangsters

from the pics-pics-pics dept

With Google still holding the search engine crown, they’re obviously going to be the target of a myriad of lawsuits. Defamation has played a role in the legal life of the search giant for some time now, even though the entire basis for technology behind the search results is in what the internet community at large does, rather than any active role by Google. That’s what makes this kind of thing so silly. We previously wrote about autocomplete defamation cases, for instance, in which autocompletes are generated based on common searches, but people still want to hold the search engine accountable. We also had the story about the minority owner of the Miami Heat who didn’t like the fact that a picture of him doing his best dog-with-peanut-butter-in-its-mouth impression showed up in search results. But, hey, at least he was suing over a picture that actually was him.

Not so for Milorad Trkulga, an elderly man from Melbourne, Australia, who has been awarded $200,000 from Google because the search engine’s image results also conjured up pictures of Tony Mokbel, an apparent “Australian gangland figure.”

The images were posted after Mr Trkulja was shot in the back by an unknown gunman while eating with his elderly mother at a St Albans restaurant in June 2004. When Mr Trkulja’s name was typed into Google’s image search, photos had appeared of him alongside gangland figure Tony Mokbel.

From what I can gather at the following related link, Trkulja was indeed shot while at a restaurant as part of some kind of infamous gangland wars that occured in 2004, hence the bridging link to a gangster. When news publications wrote up the story, they included images of both Trkulja and Mokbel, which likely caused their pictures to show up together in a search of the former’s name. Trukulja, for reasons that escape me, thought that this was defamation and took Google to court. Google argued that they weren’t publishing any of the material, only indexing search results. This, apparently, did not impress the jury.

However, the jury found Google’s defence of the images broke down because it did not take any steps to remove the images from its searches once Mr Trkulja’s lawyers contacted the company. The jury found the search engine was not liable for the search results themselves, as Mr Trkulja had incorrectly filled out a form for reporting offensive material by not including the URL of the content to which he objected.

And this is where I go from bemused to confused, so perhaps there’s an expert in Australian law out there somewhere who can help out on this one. The jury decided that Google merely indexing results doesn’t matter if Trkulja asked them to take the images off of search results, even though the jury acknowledges they aren’t liable for those results and find that Trkulja didn’t provide the actual URLs of the pictures he wanted removed. That would be like me walking up to a random person on the street, tapping them on the shoulder, telling them I didn’t like something they said once but couldn’t remember exactly what it was that offended me, demanded an apology, and then got a free down payment on a mansion when said random person didn’t comply.

Beyond that…what the hell? So images of gangsters showed up in image results because you got shot in Australian gangland wars (seriously, I thought you guys all fought with machetes). How is any of this a problem? I imagine that if you have an atypical name, search results of all kinds of people are going to show up in Google. Hell, let’s just test it out with my own name and see what happens. I’m sure the first image result of my name, Timothy Geigner, won’t be all that bad.

Timothy Geithner Treasury

Oh, hell no. This injustice will not stand. Mike, get our lawyers on the phone. It’s mansion time.

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Comments on “Australian Court: Google Must Pay Guy $200k Due To Image Search Turning Up Gangsters”

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48 Comments
Anonymous Coward says:

Hmm, guess I know how to get rich quick now.

1) Move to Australia

2) Change my name to Adolf Hitler, or Joseph Stalin, or Osama Bin Laden, or some other historical figure widely viewed as evil by almost everyone for all the horrible things they did.

3) Sue google for showing images of those historical figures whenever people google my new name.

nospacesorspecialcharacters (profile) says:

If I ever get into the Search business...

Or if I ever build my own search engine, my takedown policy is going to be really simple and easy to use. If you contact me to complain you turn up wrongly in search results; i.e. not a picture you like, not 1st result, not results you expect, bits of your news article can be read, etc… I will remove all reference to you and your business from my search website. I will purge you from any results.

I would then require payment to be made to add any content going forward if you suddenly changed your mind at a later date.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Fellin' better

you must feel ‘down’ ALOT !!!!!! they dont mock you for being ‘an’ American ! they mock you for being “American”..

do you feel sad often because your American ?

we dont really mock you anyway, we find your more than capable of doing that to yourself.. so no need for others to do it..

it just seems to the rest of the world that if there is a right way to do something, and an American way to do it, that they usually are not the same things.

it’s like the ‘max power’ way, there is a right way, and a wrong way and a Max Power way, (the wrong way, but faster)..

technomage (profile) says:

lol searching for my name, I run across football players, baseball players, basketball players,race car drivers and mugshot…though none are me..So, Australia does that mean I can sue google as well for associating my name with known terrorists(nba,nfl,mlb) and gangsters?

Hell, my pic doesn’t even show up on the first two pages of images…but I guess that happens when you have a very common name combination.
It is currently the fifth most common name in the United States. 1/32 of all Americans are named James (3.1%)

[Johnson] is the second most common family name in the United States after Smith. During the 1990 census, approximately 0.81 per cent of people counted had this family name.
(wikipedia)

Pseudonym (profile) says:

Re: Highly unusual...

This isn’t really that unusual. And if you actually read the details of the story, it’s not entirely clear that the decision was wrong, either.

The court did not find that Google was responsible for defaming Trkulga by simply juxtaposing pictures of him with pictures of Tony Mokbel. That’s the impression you’d get from the write-up.

The court found that they were responsible for refusing to break the link.

Step back a moment and think about this in the context of big data and the rise of government and corporate surveillance.

We all know the stories of people being placed on TSA watchlists, arrested, interrogated, and even tortured for having a similar name to a bad guy or being the second cousin of a bad guy.

People’s actions can be chilled or even lives ruined by very tenuous associations in databases. And whether through Paul Erdos/Kevin Bacon game, the assumption that correlation is the same as causation, or plain old coincidence, data mining can uncover associations which are false or misleading, even if they are statistically significant.

Now we may argue that people shouldn’t base decisions on associations made by Google’s machine learning algorithms. It is, ultimately, the responsibility of the person making the decision to evaluate the strength of the evidence rationally.

Nonetheless, given that these databases exist and are used, how much responsibility should be placed on those maintaining the databases for making sure that the contents are accurate, particularly clearing up a mistake when it is pointed out? Is there additional responsibility if the database is accessible to the public?

It’s a very interesting question, and I don’t know the answer.

Pseudonym (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Highly unusual...

I lived in Carlton during the worst of the gangland wars. This is very deeply burned in the Melbourne psyche. There are so many perpetrators and victims, some of whom have hard-to-pronounce-and-remember Eastern European names, that pretty much everyone has lost count.

Someone who has actually researched this period of recent history would know that this guy was an innocent victim of the violence. However, I would argue that a moron in a hurry could easily confuse this guy with an actual gangster based on just such a juxtaposition. The line that separates “reasonable” from “unreasonable” lies somewhere between.

The connection between Muhamed Haneef and his second cousin wasn’t inaccurate, either. But it was misleading and it was defamatory.

If you try hard enough, you could probably link Kevin Bacon to al Qaeda. That doesn’t mean you should.

Pseudonym (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:3 Highly unusual...

As we’ve seen many times over with “big brother”-style government and corporate databases, information that is technically true but misleading can be just as damaging as information that is untrue. And indeed, if you read the story, he raises several examples of real harm done to him because people think he’s a gangster, when he’s actually not.

(Of course, it doesn’t help that he’s a music promoter, which is a career which almost encourages people to think you’re involved in organised crime.)

He probably wouldn’t mind it if people knew that he was a victim of the gangland war (free publicity, right?), as long as people knew he was an innocent victim.

There were something like 35-40 people killed or injured in the gangland war, and only two or tree were “innocent” in the way most people think; everyone else was a gangster or associate, or a former gangster or associate. (Some had become informants.)

Everyone who followed it, and you couldn’t really help following it, knows this. In the mind of the public, that means that pretty much everyone involved with the war was involved in crime.

It is true that he was a victim of the violence. However, without also pointing out that he was an innocent victim, that information is misleading.

Pseudonym (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

I was indeed referring to the first one which was probably only 5-10% untrue. That’s the nature of narrative television.

(Yeah, don’t get me started on Razor. I didn’t make it past the third episode.)

There has been a version mostly the same as the original screened in Victoria, but you still can’t buy the DVDs. But that’s what BitTorrent is for.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

Is it still banned in VIC?

Sort of. There were some edited episodes shown on TV but I don’t think the DVD version can be sold yet due to ongoing cases. Not that I really care though. Haven’t seen it and have no inclination to do so.

I don’t blame Trkulga for suing. If that image of Mokbel with that hairpiece/wig/animal he was wearing when captured popped up, I’d sue too. Nobody should be allowed to see something so offensive :).

timmaguire42 (profile) says:

I've google searched my name before, but never an image search

Mostly flowers for some reason. Very few people, none of whom are me. Can I sue?

Strangely, while I did not appear, my father in law did. Turned out to be from his obituary, which mentions me. That’s my highest ranking–someone else’s obituary. Can I sue over that?

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