When Hong Kong business tycoon Albert Yeung Sau-shing googled his name, the auto complete feature suggested the word “triad”, a term that is associated with organised crime. Now he is suing the search engine for libel.
Mr Yeung is head of Emperor Group, a sprawling business empire dealing in property, entertainment and finance. He has been found guilty of crimes including illegal bookmaking, perverting the course of public justice and insider trading.
Google tried to have the case dismissed, but in Hong Kong this week Deputy High Court Judge Marlene Ng said it could go to trial. The decision follows a trend in overseas courts sympathetic to those who want to hold Google responsible for what the net says about them.
To prove libel in Hong Kong – and the United States – you have to show the accused published a defamatory statement about you. At issue in this case is whether Google can be regarded as the “publisher” of terms suggested by its search algorithm. Google says it cannot “publish” libelous search results because it uses automated search algorithms without human input.
Mr Yeung argues Google has control over suggested search terms because it designed the search algorithm. Therefore, he says, Google is the “publisher” of search results.
© Washington Post