Google appears to have agreed to increase its efforts to remove online links to malicious articles that made false allegations about an international businessman.
Settlement of what would have been a test case defining the US firm’s global responsibilities was announced at the high court in London on Monday.
The case was brought by the former Morgan Stanley banker Daniel Hegglin against the international arm of the search engine company after allegations were circulated across 4,000 websites in what was described by his lawyers as an extreme example of internet trolling.
Hegglin said he had been wrongly described as a murderer, Ku Klux Klan sympathiser and paedophile in multiple online postings. The case was an attempt to force Google to block the “vile and abusive” material from appearing in search results.
Details of the settlement were not revealed but an agreed statement was read out in court.
“The settlement includes significant efforts on Google’s part to remove the abusive material from Google-hosted websites and from its search results,” said Hegglin’s barrister, Hugh Tomlinson QC.
“Mr Hegglin will now concentrate his energies on bringing the persons responsible for this campaign of harassment to justice.”
On behalf of Google, Anthony White QC said: “Google provides search services to millions of people and cannot be responsible for policing internet content. It will, however, continue to apply its procedures that have been developed to assist with the removal of content which breaches local applicable laws.”
A Google spokesperson said: “We have reached a mutually acceptable agreement,” but declined to comment further on the settlement.
Google had requested that Hegglin submit links to the relevant pages to have them removed from search results under its “right to be forgotten” system. But Tomlinson said Hegglin’s case did not fall under that system: “It’s about the circulation of abusive material”.
Hegglin, who became aware of the abuse in 2011, says there are more than 3,600 websites containing untrue material about him. He claims to have already submitted a list of links to Google, but that more have appeared, turning it into a “game of whack-a-mole”.
Hegglin, who was previously based in London but is now a Hong Kong resident, claims that while Google did not produce the material, it had propagated it through the search engine. He sought a British court order to force Google to take steps to prevent the posts appearing in searches made in England and Wales.
The “right to be forgotten” system allows people to apply to have outdated material about them removed from search results. Hegglin’s case was about a form of abuse made possible by anyone being able to post malicious material anonymously online.
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