UK

Google case over online abuse settled

  • 24 November 2014
  • From the section UK
Google logo

A UK businessman who took Google to court over malicious web postings about him appearing in its search results has reached a settlement with the firm.

Daniel Hegglin said he had been wrongly called a murderer, paedophile and Ku Klux Klan sympathiser by an unknown internet troll.

Mr Hegglin's lawyer told a High Court judge that Google had made "significant efforts" to remove abusive material.

The details of the settlement, reached on Sunday, have not been disclosed.

Mr Hegglin had wanted Google to block the anonymous posts from its search engine results. Google had asked him to provide a list of web links to be removed.

However, on Monday a Google search for the businessman's name still generated results including abusive and expletive-filled content.

'Exceptional case'

Hugh Tomlinson QC told Mr Justice Jay at a High Court hearing: " I am pleased to report that the parties have now settled the matter.

"The settlement includes significant efforts on Google's part to remove the abusive material from Google-hosted websites and from its search results. Mr Hegglin will now concentrate his energies on bringing the person responsible for this campaign of harassment to justice."

Image caption Some search results for Daniel Hegglin have already been removed by Google

Anthony White QC, for Google, said the company had "considerable sympathy" for Mr Hegglin in what was an "exceptional case of internet trolling in terms of its prominence and volume".

"Google provides search services to millions of people and cannot be responsible for policing internet content," he said.

"It will however continue to apply its procedures that have been developed to assist with the removal of content which breaches applicable local laws."

Outside the court, Mr Hegglin said he was "very pleased the dispute had been resolved to both parties' mutual satisfaction".

'More widespread'

BBC legal correspondent Clive Coleman said while there had been no firm ruling, the outcome would give hope to people on the receiving end of vile abuse online.

"This was not a case about the so-called right to be forgotten where people are allowed to request that Google takes down information about them from the past that is perhaps embarrassing," he said.

"This was about an internet troll whose identity was unknown, who was posting false statements about Mr Hegglin."

The term internet troll refers to people who intentionally post provocative and abusive comments to cause offence and distress.

Media captionClive Coleman explains the background to the case

Mr Hegglin, who currently lives in Hong Kong but previously lived and worked in London, first became aware of the online abuse in 2011.

The businessman claimed there were more than 3,600 websites containing abusive and untrue material about him, and said listing all the posts for Google to remove would be expensive, time consuming, and ineffective.

He said that although Google was not the originator of the abusive campaign, its search engines have allowed the abuse to become more widespread.

He was seeking a legal order to force Google to take steps to prevent the abusive posts being processed in searches in England and Wales.

The case took place against the backdrop of the Court of Justice of the European Union's decision on the controversial "right to be forgotten" rule.

The right to be forgotten ruling - made in May - allows outdated online links to be erased from search results at the request of the article's subject.

More on this story