Thursday, July 31, 2014

Max Mosley to sue Google, risks Streisand effect

Max Mosley is suing Google for continuing to display in search results images of him with prostitutes at a sex party. He is citing alleged breaches of the Data Protection Act and a misuse of private information.

However Mosley's repeated legal moves in his crusade over privacy merely increases the likelihood that people will seek out the very images he is complaining about.

Whether you picked up a newspaper or read the headlines on the Internet, Max Mosley's name was splattered everywhere on Thursday [31st July]. The reason was that the former Formula 1 racing boss had decided to sue the Internet Giant Google for failing to remove links to pictures of him at a sex party.

The pictures came to light in March 2008 when the News of the World published a series of sensationalist stories surrounding Max Mosley's involvement with several prostitutes.

Mosley later sued the News of the World and won the case on the grounds that it had breached his privacy.

However, the story was already out there. For a variety of reasons media organisations and bloggers have continued to republish the offending photographs.

Mosley launched legal action against Google, in an attempt to stop searches from returning web pages which used the photographs from the video used for the News of the World story. On 6th November 2013 in Mosley v SARL Google a French court sided with Mosley and ordered Google to prevent its search engine from providing links to images of Max Mosley engaging in sexual activities from the video.

Mosley launched a similar legal action against Google in Germany and in January 2014 the German court also ruled against the American company. In giving its verdict, the court stated, "that the banned pictures of the plaintiff severely violate his private sphere."

But while Google was removing links, new links emerged. The very act of taking Google to court was in fact bringing attention to a story that most of the public had forgotten long ago.

Mosley was in fact risk what has become known as the Streisand Effect. The phenomena is so named after the singer Barbra Streisand attempted to suppress publication of photographs of her Malibu home, but resulted in even greater publicity.

Today as Mosley seeks to get Google to forget his past, his attempts to eradicate his past are failing. A recent flick through Twitter shows some users are posting the very pictures that he is keen to remove.

"Anyone trying to get something banned is always going to be of more interest than something that people don't seem bothered by," says Jenny Afia, head of talent at the law firm Schillings. "It's a spark for curiosity."

Certainly interest has dropped over the years from a peak in 2008. Google trends shows that searches on the story have diminished, but there are still occasional spikes [Register]. 

Mosley may get Google to remove links, even proactively. But he will still have an on going battle to remove the pictures from the Internet altogether. Mosley seems to have focused his attentions to Google whilst forgetting about Bing and Yahoo. In addition there are foreign search engines such as Russia's Yandex and China's Baidu which also return pictures of the F1 bosses sordid past. There are also search engines tied into other services. Twipho for example allows users search for pictures posted to Twitter.

If Max Mosley was interested in his past being forgotten he would simply lie low. Shouting about something from the rooftops is not the way to avoid attention.

[Wikipedia / BBC / Guardian / Forbes / SearchEngineWatch]

tvnewswatch, London, UK

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