06:42 PM
Connect Directly

Google Sued Over Search Suggestion

A Wisconsin resident blames Google for Web content that links her name to a drug for sexual dysfunction.

Google on Tuesday was sued in a Wisconsin court for allegedly violating the privacy rights of Beverly Stayart, an animal rights activist and the CFO and director of business development at Stayart Law Offices, the firm filing the complaint.

The lawsuit claims that Google is responsible for suggesting the search term "bev stayart levitra" as a user types "bev stayart" and is profiting from this association through the sale of ads on search results pages triggered by those keywords.

Levitra is a sexual dysfunction drug, and thus a term to which some might wish to avoid being linked.

"Google is misleading consumers, in Wisconsin and throughout the world, by selling the keyword phrase 'bev stayart levitra' and placing 'sponsored links' advertisements for Levitra, other male sexual dysfunction drugs, and other medicines and products on the page 'bev stayart levitra' on Google's Web site," the complaint states.

Filing a lawsuit, and the publicity that follows through articles like this one, will unfortunately only strengthen the association of the terms.

Google didn't immediately respond to a request for comment.

Eric Goldman, associate professor of Law at Santa Clara University School of Law, doesn't think the complaint has much merit, noting that the plaintiff lost a similar "mockable" claim against Yahoo last year.

In a blog post, he says that the claim fails to grasp that a search for the term "bev stayart levitra" may return ads based on "levitra," regardless of the presence of the the plaintiff's name or other keywords.

That's aside from the fact that Google is only indexing Web pages created by others. By virtue of her visibility online, Stayart's name appears to have been co-opted by "sploggers" (those who create spam Web pages) to drive traffic to their pharmaceutical sites.

Nonetheless, Goldman acknowledges that the lawsuit points to an issue that could become problematic for Google in the future: publicity rights in the context of domain names.

Google has a policy for dealing with the sale of keywords that are trademarked, but publicity rights are governed by a different set of rules.

Whereas trademark claims have to establish that another party's use of the trademark confuses consumers, there's no such requirement to assert a publicity rights claim. Thus a domain name, or keyword search term, that's also a famous person's name, could have legal protection not available to mere trademarks.

"Publicity rights are very powerful because they don't require consumer confusion," he said in a phone interview. "I don't think we've seen the last of this."

Comment  | 
Print  | 
More Insights
Newest First  |  Oldest First  |  Threaded View
Register for Dark Reading Newsletters
Dark Reading Live EVENTS
INsecurity - For the Defenders of Enterprise Security
A Dark Reading Conference
While red team conferences focus primarily on new vulnerabilities and security researchers, INsecurity puts security execution, protection, and operations center stage. The primary speakers will be CISOs and leaders in security defense; the blue team will be the focus.
White Papers
Cartoon Contest
Write a Caption, Win a Starbucks Card! Click Here
Latest Comment: "Jamie, the darn Unicorn is back."
Current Issue
Security Vulnerabilities: The Next Wave
Just when you thought it was safe, researchers have unveiled a new round of IT security flaws. Is your enterprise ready?
Flash Poll
[Strategic Security Report] Assessing Cybersecurity Risk
[Strategic Security Report] Assessing Cybersecurity Risk
As cyber attackers become more sophisticated and enterprise defenses become more complex, many enterprises are faced with a complicated question: what is the risk of an IT security breach? This report delivers insight on how today's enterprises evaluate the risks they face. This report also offers a look at security professionals' concerns about a wide variety of threats, including cloud security, mobile security, and the Internet of Things.
Twitter Feed
Dark Reading - Bug Report
Bug Report
Enterprise Vulnerabilities
From DHS/US-CERT's National Vulnerability Database
Published: 2017-05-09
NScript in mpengine in Microsoft Malware Protection Engine with Engine Version before 1.1.13704.0, as used in Windows Defender and other products, allows remote attackers to execute arbitrary code or cause a denial of service (type confusion and application crash) via crafted JavaScript code within ...

Published: 2017-05-08
unixsocket.c in lxterminal through 0.3.0 insecurely uses /tmp for a socket file, allowing a local user to cause a denial of service (preventing terminal launch), or possibly have other impact (bypassing terminal access control).

Published: 2017-05-08
A privilege escalation vulnerability in Brocade Fibre Channel SAN products running Brocade Fabric OS (FOS) releases earlier than v7.4.1d and v8.0.1b could allow an authenticated attacker to elevate the privileges of user accounts accessing the system via command line interface. With affected version...

Published: 2017-05-08
Improper checks for unusual or exceptional conditions in Brocade NetIron 05.8.00 and later releases up to and including 06.1.00, when the Management Module is continuously scanned on port 22, may allow attackers to cause a denial of service (crash and reload) of the management module.

Published: 2017-05-08
Nextcloud Server before 11.0.3 is vulnerable to an inadequate escaping leading to a XSS vulnerability in the search module. To be exploitable a user has to write or paste malicious content into the search dialogue.