A businessman who was wrongly accused of being a murderer, paedophile and Ku Klux Klan sympathiser by an anonymous internet troll has settled his High Court dispute with Google.
Daniel Hegglin, a former Morgan Stanley banker, had taken the technology company to court in an attempt to block links to the “vile and abusive” websites about him from appearing in its search results.
At a previous hearing, lawyers predicted that if the dispute came to trial it could prove to be “a test case with enormous consequences” for Google, which claims it is not responsible for policing the internet.
The details of the settlement, which was announced at a hearing in London today in front of Mr Justice Jay, were not revealed. Instead, lawyers for both parties read out agreed statements. Hugh Tomlinson QC, acting for Mr Hegglin, told the court that Google had taken steps to remove the material.
“Whilst I am not in a position to disclose the details, I am pleased to report that the parties have now settled the matter,” he said. “The settlement includes significant efforts on Google’s part to remove the abusive material from Google hosted websites and from its search results.”
He added that his client now intended to “concentrate his energies on bringing the person responsible for this campaign of harassment to justice”.
Antony White QC, representing Google, said the case had been unusual as the person abusing the businessman had been prolific.
“Google has considerable sympathy for Mr Hegglin in what is an exceptional case of internet trolling in terms of its prominence and volume,” he told the judge.
“Google provides search services to millions of people and cannot be responsible for policing internet content. It will, however, continue to apply its procedures that have been developed to assist with the removal of content which breaches applicable local laws.”
Mr Hegglin, who worked at Morgan Stanley for 24 years but now lives in Hong Kong, claimed that there were more than 3,600 websites containing false allegations about him.
At an earlier hearing, his lawyers said the volume of the defamatory claims about their client was “increasing” and “proliferating” despite Google’s attempts to deal with the issue by removing the relevant pages.
They complained that the process of deleting the links was like “playing a game of whack-a-mole” as no matter how many pages were removed, more kept springing up in their place.
In May, the European Court of Justice controversially ruled that links to irrelevant and outdated material about someone should be erased from search results if they requested their removal, giving people “the right to be forgotten”. But in Mr Hegglin’s case this did not work due to the constant creation of new material about him.
Outside the court, the businessman said he was “very pleased the dispute had been resolved to both parties’ mutual satisfaction”. A Google spokesperson said the company had “reached a mutually acceptable agreement” with Mr Hegglin, but declined to comment further.Reuse content