A decision of 25 March 2013 by the Court of Milan (Italy) addresses the action brought by two non-profit organizations against Google. They claimed that Google defamed them because the Autocomplete and Related Searches services matched the plaintiff’s names with “insulting and offensive statements”.
As a first point, the Judge found that Google couldn’t be considered as a “content provider” for the activity performed in connection with the Autocomplete and Related Searches services.
This because the terms displayed to end users as part of such services "are not stored, nor are they structured, organized or influenced by Google that, through automated software, merely analyses their popularity and re-orders them on the basis of an algorithm". Google must therefore be considered only as a "caching provider" within the meaning of Article 15 of Legislative Decree no. 9 April 2003, n. 70. It could therefore benefit from the safe harbour provided for in Article 17 (corresponding to art. 15 of the information society EC Directive 31/2000).
In addition, the judge also found that the automatic matching of words such as "sect" and "plagiarism" and the plaintiff’s names could not be regarded as being defamatory. These terms are "not meaningful sentences or manifestations of thought, nor represent "what Google thinks", or a thought, or a thought attributable to Google. These terms are just the result of the most popular searches, which are then made available by Google to users as a mean of support for their searches. "
The Judge also found that Internet users are well aware that these suggestions (even if objectively insulting in their meaning) are the result of a technical process aimed to facilitate web searches.