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March 22, 2004

CPA sues Search Engines for Libel

Accountant 'Googles' Himself, Sues for Libel [AP, 3/19/04] Mark Maughan, a CPA with the firm Brown & Maughan, has sued Google, AOL, Time Warner and Yahoo! for libel. Google's Page Rank system is apparently at fault for generating "alarming" information about Maughan. According to the article:

"Specifically, the search results falsely represent that plaintiffs Maughan and/or Brown & Maughan have been disciplined for gross negligence, for failing to timely submit a client's claim for refund of overpayment of taxes, and for practicing as a CPA without a permit," according to the proposed class action filed in Los Angeles Superior Court.
Google's search results already show top ranking links from people and sites ridiculing this news story.

The lawsuit itself is disturbing in several ways. First, why is the tool (the search engine) the culprit? It's the information itself, not the means for finding it, that should be problematic. More worrisome is the not-unwarranted concern that average users of Google or other search engines will look at the first page of results and take the information at face value - which is what the guy is concerned about, because the perception hurts him and his firm. As librarians we continue to stress that material from the Internet is not always the best, most accurate information out there. But this is also a basic premise of surfing the Web - and yet how many people don't get that?

Yours, &c., LC | 12:50 PM | Internet & Tech , Legal , Librariana | Comments (1) | TrackBack (0)

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Ironically, if I read the story correctly, Maughin only learned about the "libelous" materials about him because they were returned by a search. In other words, the search engine succeeded in returning pages that were relevant to his search term.

If this suit were to be successful, the next thing we would see is lawsuits from professionals with last names starting with 'Z' suing the phone book for lost income because they alphabetize listings.

Posted by: Scott at March 22, 2004 03:23 PM