Google is being threatened with a potential lawsuit of up to $100 million over alleged privacy violations related to the recent Apple iCloud celebrity photo hacking incident, which led to the disclosure of private pictures of dozens of Hollywood celebrities.
The legal threat is being levied by law firm Lavely & Singer, which noted in the complaint that it is the legal counsel of “over a dozen female celebrities” who were victims of the recent iCloud attack.
“Although it has been approximately four weeks since we sent our first DMCA (Digital Millennium Copyright Act) notice to Google, and well over a dozen additional notices and warnings have been sent to you since then, many of the images are still available on Google’s sites,” the lawyer’s letter states.
The legal complaint demands that Google fix the situation and do the right thing and remove the images from Google sites and search results.
“Rather than be the transgressor, Google should set the example for all other operators and providers,” the letter states. “In Google’s own words, ‘Don’t be evil.'”
Google did not respond to a request for comment from eWEEK about the legal complaint.
The issue of whether Google is responsible for users who are searching for bad things is one that technology experts contacted by eWEEK had mixed opinions about depending on the context. The idea of searching for bad things, including potential security issues on Google, is a common security researcher practice that is often referred to as Google Hacking.
Morey Haber, senior director of program management at BeyondTrust, said that the DMCA has always been a debated piece of legislation, since it can impede free speech as guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution.
“The idea of searching for a bad thing can easily lead to illegal activity,” Haber said.
For example, searching for a movie title and BitTorrent implies the user wants to download a movie, probably illegally, he said.
“Now, if the content itself was obtained illegally, like the recent nude pictures of celebrities, does it make Google an accessory to the crime, since it knows the images where obtained illegally and being hosted in their domain?” Haber asked.
Tom Gorup, security operations center manager at Rook Security, told eWEEK that Google’s search engine is just that—a search engine. Google’s job is to provide users with access to information they otherwise would never have known about or would have otherwise taken exponentially longer to locate.
“Bad things will be on the Internet, and Google offers a ‘Safe Search’ function if users would rather not be shown that type of content,” Gorup said.
Google Threatened With $100 Million Lawsuit Over Hacked Celebrity Pictures
Renee Bradshaw, senior solutions marketing manager at NetIQ, told eWEEK that trying to police the Google search capability is about as productive as attempting to police one’s own thoughts.
“Like your thoughts, the Google search capability is neither good nor bad; it is a neutral occurrence that can sometimes take you through suspect areas, but ultimately requires freedom to realize its full potential,” Bradshaw said. “Forcing Google, or any search engine, to tighten down on what it can and cannot point to only serves to restrict the rights of others who depend on the effectiveness and thoroughness of the search to further their own objectives.”
When it comes to the issue of what Google should actually do about the celebrity images that are present on Google sites, including YouTube, there was little argument about what needs to happen.
“In my opinion, they should be removed,” Haber said. “The images are sensitive [nude], personal and obtained illegally.”
Bradshaw echoed that sentiment, commenting that Google should do the right thing and remove the images from Google-owned sites and take effective measures to have their hosted sites remove them.
“Continuing to display these stolen images is, in my opinion, a mistake Google cannot afford to make,” Bradshaw said. “This is because it gives every appearance that Google not only does not care about privacy rights but, furthermore, does not mind profiting off the display of these very private and stolen images.”
Gorup agrees that the images should be removed, though he said it’s important to also consider the volume of takedown requests for content that Google receives overall.
“Google gets thousands of takedown notices and abusive content alerts a day, especially for applications like YouTube and Blogspot,” he said. “Regardless of how large the company is, not everyone at Google works in their content review and legal teams.”
Sean Michael Kerner is a senior editor at eWEEK and InternetNews.com. Follow him on Twitter @TechJournalist.