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Stars fight search engines over porn links

Stars fight search engines over porn links

Argentine actress Isabel Macedo heard on the grapevine that her name was appearing on internet porn sites, so she sat down at her computer to Google herself.

She recalls feeling "ashamed and horrified" to find links to sex sites among the top 10 search results, especially as she was then working on a hit children's TV show, Floricienta.

Ms Macedo is one of 114 people, including football star Diego Maradona, who have sought restraining orders against Google and Yahoo in Argentina over content they say is defamatory and has achieved prominence thanks to the power of the leading search engines.

The cases centre on the thorny question of who is responsible for web content and whether censorship is valid or just a case of shooting the messenger.

A search for Maradona on www.yahoo.com.ar brings up a notice saying that, because of a legal order, "we have been obliged temporarily to suspend some or all of the results related to this search". Full results are, however, displayed on www.yahoo.com.

"The key to the question is that if these search engines didn't exist, no one would know these sites," says Martín Leguizamón Peña, a showbusiness lawyer representing the plaintiffs, some of whom are also suing for damages.

Citing Google's own technology overview, which says its search engine "analyses the full content of a page", he told the FT: "They know everything they are putting up there and, as such, they are as responsible as the people who put together the content."

Google sees the action as a censorship bid. "We will gladly remove a link if it violates the law but we can't act as a censor of a whole host of information which is legal," says Alberto Arébalos, a spokesman.

Google, for example, blocks Nazi memorabilia sites in Germany since they are banned under German law. Mr Arébalos says content in China is filtered by Beijing and Google informs users.

"Citizens need to be protected, not from Google but from sites that are potentially slandering them," says Nart Villeneuve of the Citizen Lab, an internet censorship institute at the University of Toronto. "People could be writing blogs alleging all sorts of things and it's not Google's responsibility to go and determine the legality."

Yahoo says the legal action in Argentina, which began two years ago, "undermines the immense value of the internet as a world vehicle to share information" and seeks to limit freedom of expression.

Paul Gershlick, a UK solicitor at Matthew Arnold and Baldwin, who specialises in IT law, notes that "European law has exemptions from liability for intermediaries like Yahoo and Google, so it couldn't happen in the UK.

"But in Argentina they don't have such laws to fill that gap."


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