So Google has now removed the pages publishing the, shall we say adult, pictures of the actress Jennifer Lawrence from their search engine. The internet based news channel The Young Turks brought to my attention the fact that Lawrence legal representative contacted Google and asked them to remove the pictures because they were hers and she hadn’t agreed to share them, so far all well and good. But as you can see in this clip right here, a few other things were said that bothered me.
For example, consider who gets sued in a situation like this and who doesn’t. Google isn’t the one at fault here, any moral outrage should be directed at the scumbags who hacked into Lawrence’ computer and stole the pictures in the first place. While I do think it’s nice of Google to do the right thing and agree to remove the offending pages, it makes no sense that legal action should be brought against Google. They provide a search engine, they don’t create content themselves, which brings us to a problem that I’ve been observing lately with regards to user created content on the internet.
The scenario is often the same, you have your garden variety social media such as Facebook, Youtube, Twitter etc or a search engine like Google or Bing. They let users create content and/or find content created by other users. Often these users number in the millions. At some point some of them are going to post something offensive or illegal, but since the common user is either anonymous, hard to trace or generally not well known people find it easier to target the intermediary.
Take for example the statement by that top entertainment lawyer quoted in the TYT clip I linked above, at around 4:44. The lawyer says that Google should pay for its “blatantly unethical behavior”. Really, dude? Really? “Blatantly unethical behavior”? And he is apparently threatening to sue Google for a hundred million dollars if that clip is to be believed. If you get shot in the kneecap you probably won’t get a hundred million dollars in compensation, but fuck proportionality, right?
Please don’t take what I’m saying here as an attack on Jennifer Lawrence, I totally get why she asks Google to remove the picture. If they comply it’s certainly a nice gesture, but again, they just provide an effective search engine. Someone else put the pictures up, Cenk Uygur had a point in that clip when he said that Google doesn’t own the freaking internet.
This may sound like it’s not a big deal, but at times it gets really serious. In Europe, in Sweden to be precise, there was once upon a time something referred to as the pirate bay trial. The owners of a search engine for torrents were sentenced to actual prison time for copyright infringement. They hadn’t actually published any protected material themselves as far as I know, they had just provided a technical service that others happened used in a way that was illegal. You could argue that they were aiding criminals, but any way you put it it was a case of technology providers ending up in prison while the ones committing actual copyright infringement just went on with their lives in most cases.
Any technology that allows users to post content is going to be vulnerable to criminal activity on the side of the users, but if you actually go ahead and sue Google for a hundred million dollars just because it is possible to find certain pictures through their search engine you will unavoidably end up looking like the village idiot, grasping for the shiny recognizable object instead of the source of the evil. A hundred million dollars? Like Cenk said, it offends my sense of logic.