An Irish hotel was suing Google for an autocomplete suggestion that implied the hotel was in financial trouble. That case has now been withdrawn, although no details of any settlement have been released.
Hotel Defamation Case Withdrawn
The Ballymascanlon hotel opened its autocomplete defamation case against Google in June of this year. The Irish court has since been evaluating the merits of the case.
The Irish High Court was to determine if the case was worthy of being pursued in commercial court on November 21. The ruling never came, however, as Ballymascanlon – represented by Ballymascanlon Holdings, Oliver Quinn Sr., Oliver Quinn Jr., and Niall Quinn – withdrew their claim.
It may be that Google conducted an out-of-court settlement, but their own statement – indicating they are “pleased this case has been withdrawn” – seems to contradict that possibility. The Journal also indicated that no payment terms, search result modifications, or other agreements from Google were a part of the case withdrawal, although no source was cited.
It could be that Ballymascanlon Holdings simply felt that they couldn’t win the case or that no settlement was likely. Even if they were at one point trying to reach into deep pockets, though, their early withdrawal is more benevolent than most companies give; many have extended anti-Google lawsuits for years at a time.
Can Google’s Autocomplete Be Guilty of Libel?
This case began with the autocomplete suggestion “Ballymascanlon receivership.” The term implied that the company was in financial straits, and caused a significant number of would-be guests to call the company in concern. An unknown number of additional residents may have avoided doing business with Ballymascanlon altogether.
As noted in our first article on the case, this situation raises some interesting ethical and legal questions. While autcompletes are verifiably the result of users searching for terms of their own will and volition, it’s also true that more users will search for a suggested term.
If that term is inaccurate and harms the reputation or business of the company in question, should that company have any right to compensation? If so, from whom? At least in this case, it seems that plaintiff determined that Google wasn’t the appropriate party to pay out damages.
What do you think is appropriate in this case? Should Google be providing any compensation? Or was Ballymascanlon right to drop the case without conditions? How should libellous autocompletes be handled or manipulated, if they should be at all? Give your thoughts in the comments, below.