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Thursday, 22 November 2012

Allegedly defamatory content definitely de-indexed from Google UK, Google does not do this lightly, injunction likely

One of the websites I've been keeping an eye on as part of my reporting of the McAlpine saga and my series on how rumour, fact and falsehood spread online (1, 2, 3) has been de-indexed from Google UK; and this is most likely the result of a court order (injunction), as I will explain.
"In response to a legal requested submitted to Google,
we have removed 1 result(s) from this page."
Notice on Google.co.uk this morning
The website is still available when searching from overseas locations using Google.com.

For very obvious reasons in the current climate I will not say more about the website in question than I need in order to report the significance.  The website makes several serious allegations about UK politicians relating to events over a decade ago.

For full clarity there is no evidence to suggest the removal has anything to do with Lord McAlpine or his legal team, as the website mentions several other politicians.

To those not familiar with Google's stance on free speech this might not be surprising, given the recent furore over false identification.

False allegations of the most serious nature have elicited an emotional response - from both sides of the debate.

Even some free speech advocates are wrestling right now with the question of whether some "regulation" (for want of a better word) might be necessary, whilst others are arguing that cover-ups will continue whilst the establishment continues to maintain a grip on communications.

That said, I have it on extremely good authority from multiple high level sources within Google that the company does not  take down defamatory content lightly.

"Normally, in the UK, that would require a court order" said one of my contacts.

This raises the likelihood that there is at least one court injunction in place preventing allegations being made about one or more of the people mentioned on the website in question.

From Google's own Transparency Report, over 80% of UK take-downs for defamation in the last 2 years stemmed from a court order, the rest from "Executive, Police, etc":
Google UK take-downs requests by category
Source: Google's Transparency Report (UK)
It is not thought that Google will remove defamatory content merely on application from the subject or the subject's lawyer, without a court order; therefore it's reasonable to believe either a court order exists (>80% probability, based on the stats), or the request originated from the police or the security services (<.20% probability).

The above stats are for requests, not take-downs.  Similar statistics are not available filtered by compliance. Google's take-down ratio is around 61% as of this summer so it's highly likely the ratio of court orders to police, etc requests for content actually taken down is higher than 80%.

Google have so far taken a firm line with requests from UK police in the absence of a court order, highlighting (under United Kingdom section):
"We received a request from a local law enforcement agency to remove 14 search results for linking to sites that criticise the police and claim individuals were involved in obscuring crimes. We did not remove content in response to this request. In addition, we received a request from another local law enforcement agency to remove a YouTube video for criticising the agency of racism. We did not remove content in response to this request. 
The number of content removal requests we received increased by 98% compared to the previous reporting period."
In any case we may soon be able to view the actual order at some point due to Google's participation in the Chilling Effects project.



  1. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  2. The removed comment above linked to a post stating that Lord McAlpine's lawyers had threatened to sue Google over a particular defamatory article originally published in the 1990's.

    At the moment I have seen no supporting evidence for the assertion, however I will try and corroborate.

    Unfortunately such is the libel chill in the UK at the moment I have removed the link as a precaution.


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