Google defamed Australian man with links to gangster
Search results connected everyday punter with nasty drug dealer
Antonios 'Tony' Sajih Mokbel is not, by many accounts including the Australian TV series Underbelly, a very nice chap.
The show details how Mokbel was involved in a violent gang war in the Australian State of Victoria, which recently sent him down for 22 years and confiscated $AUD18million of assets said to have been generated by drug dealing.
In short, he's not the kind of fellow one would want to be associated with.
Melbourne man Michael Trkulja certainly didn't want to be associated with Mokbel, not least because he was shot by a masked gunman in 2004 for reasons that remain murky to this day.
But Google seemed to want to associate Trkulja with Mokbel, as in 2009 a search on Trkulja's name produced pictures of Mokbel and links to articles about the villain.
Trkulja asked Google to do something about it, the Chocolate Factory either declined to do so or acted slowly because Trkulja may not have filled in the right forms, and the matter wound up in court where this week a jury agreed with Trkulja's defamation claim.
Google has clammed up about the case, which went against it because the jury felt it had not done enough to meet Trkulja's requests and could therefore be responsible for the links in its index.
Trkulja is understandably chuffed at having won, describing a battle against Google as exhausting and difficult.
Yahoo! has already coughed up $AUD225,000 after a similar case went Trkulja's way. Just what Google will be forced to fork out, or whether it will appeal, is yet to be decided. The case's ramifications for search engines around the world will also be watched with interest. ®
Just to clarify what happened...
1) Mr Trkulja was at a restaurant having dinner when a gunman opened fire, shooting Trkulja. This was during a time of underworld fighting, and there were some public executions of gangland figures.
2) Trkulja has no criminal record, nor any previous links to crime or underworld figures, and it seems he was shot accidentally. He was an innocent bystander.
3) An enthusiast website about the Melbourne gangland wars of the time wrote about the shooting, naming Mr Trkulja, and publishing a photo of him. Apparently the page didn't link him to criminal activity, but merely described events, but the page also included images and names of criminal figures and putting the shooting into context of the gang war narrative. This is how Trkulja and Mokbel were inextricably linked together by Google.
4) Google search results began showing images of Trkulja next to images of notorious crime figure Tony Mokbel, and his image also showed up when you did a seach with the term "Melbourne Crime". The casual implication being that Trkulja was associated with Mokbel and the Melbourne criminal underworld that was very much in the news at that time.
5) Trkulja contacted Google and asked them to do something about it, which they can easily do if they could be bothered to get off their arses and wipe the Cheetos residue from their fingers. After all, Google no longer links "miserable fool" to George W Bush's biography does it?
6) Google looked at the letter that explained the situation and how it affects Mr Trkulja, saw that the letter didn't include the URL of the "offending" material, and decided that there wasn't enough information to do anything. Probably because entering "Melbourne crime" into their own search engine and clicking on the top link was too difficult for them. NOTE: the lack of action from Google wasn't some ethical issue/principle, they did nothing because Trkulja didn't do their job for them and provide a URL to the page.
7) Mr Trkulja wasn't happy with this response from Google so he went the legal route and won.
It should be noted that Mr Trkulja DIDN'T win the money because of the initial defamation, but because Google did f**-all about it when informed there was an issue. If they had done something about it at the time, Google would have acted to the best of their ability, there wouldn't be an issue and Mr Trkulja would have got nothing.
Hope this holds up.
The famous "Do No Evil" attitude at Google's headquarters has long since succumbed to the sheer uncontrollable mass of data Google accumulates about... er... just about everybody. Like it or not, these days Google is Big Brother.
The problem is, they know it and they refuse to do anything about it. They knowingly kick existing privacy laws in the groin in just about any country. Because it's convenient to not adhere to laws that prohibit collecting and connecting data about people without their explicit consent. They're a public business after all; they have to make their shareholders happy. So far, so SOP for just about any company dealing with massive amounts of customer data. They all try to squeeze a few extra bucks out of it by selling it to advertisers, secret services and other criminals.
So, no surprise that the runaway gathering and automated correlating of data leads to perversions like the one that hit Mr. Trkulja. The only thing that can get the data glommers (again, Google aren't the only ones) to fix their algorithms so that this sort of data mis-evaluation won't happen again is if the cost for this sort of mistake rises above the cost of fixing things. So I hope the settlement is big enough to kick the Chocolate Factory in the butt so they notice. Or at least do something when the party impacted asks them to.
So in other words, Trkulja *is* associated with Mokbel and the Melbourne criminal underworld,
Because he was shot by them. That's an association, in the sense of "connection or combination", as I understand it.
/əˌsoʊsiˈeɪʃən, -ʃi-/ Show Spelled[uh-soh-see-ey-shuhn, -shee-]
1. an organization of people with a common purpose and having a formal structure.
2. the act of associating or state of being associated.
3. friendship; companionship: Their close association did not last long.
4. connection or combination.
5. the connection or relation of ideas, feelings, sensations, etc.; correlation of elements of perception, reasoning, or the like.