Defamation Case by Bettina Wulff Highlights Double Standard at Google
Former German first lady Bettina Wulff has taken on Google over search terms that link to false rumors that she used to be a prostitute. The company argues that it generates such terms based on “objective factors,” but it’s not that simple. Google has suppressed undesirable results before in response to powerful lobby groups.
Look up former German first lady Bettina Wulff on Google Germany, and the search engine suggests refining the search with terms such as “prostitute,” “bordello” and “Playboy.” Wulff, whose husband Christian Wulff resigned in disgrace from the presidency in February, maintains that the rumors about her alleged “red-light past” are completely false.
On Monday, the mass-circulation newspaper Bild dedicated its front page to Bettina Wulff’s autobiography, which will be published on Wednesday. It quotes from a chapter in the book in which Wulff addresses the rumors.
“My pseudonym is supposedly ‘Lady Victoria’ and my workplace was apparently an establishment called ‘Chateau Osnabrück,’” Wulff writes, according to Bild. She continues: “I have never worked as escort.” The rumors have been very hurtful for her and her family, Wulff writes, describing her concern that her young son Leander might discover the speculation while surfing the Internet.
For some two years, Wulff has been fighting bloggers and journalists disseminating the gossip, and her lawyers have already issued 34 successful cease-and-desist orders, including one against a prominent German television personality this weekend.
But last week they took on Internet giant Google too, filing a defamation suit with the Hamburg district court to force the search engine to remove a long list of damaging terms recommended by its “Autocomplete” function in connection with Wulff. Google, which has refused to comply, claims that the search suggestions are simply the result of an algorithm. The company seems confident about the lawsuit, having won similar cases in court with claims that the search engine only reflects what people search for most often online.