Google suspends Trends email alerts in NZ after breaching murder trial order
Google has suspended an email alert system in New Zealand after receiving backlash by the country’s government for releasing suppressed information relating to an ongoing murder trial.
The company in December released automated emails that included the name of a suspect of a high-profile murder trial.
During the trial, the court had ordered for the name of the accused murder to be suppressed while the trial was still in process to ensure a fair trial, but Google’s automated Trends email alerts sent the murder suspect’s name to thousands of users.
Google’s decision to suspend its email alerting system, Trends, on Friday — seven months after it breached the court order — comes almost immediately after Justice Minister Andrew Little on Wednesday posted a video on Twitter saying to Google: “don’t be evil”.
“We’ve had a situation where, in a very important trial — the Grace Millane case — a newspaper, helped by Google, has published information that the judge said was suppressed,” Little said in the video.
“That’s wrong and I’ve been a bit frustrated by Google not working out what the problem is and what they can do to prevent this from happening again,” he added.
With the decision to suspend Trends in New Zealand, people will no longer receive emails on any trending searches related to New Zealand.
In a letter [PDF] to Little, Google said the decision to suspend Trends was to “provide even further assurance” that a similar incident would not occur again, a Google spokesperson said in a letter to government.
Google’s letter also added that the company has examined its subscriber email systems in relation to Google Trends, placed procedures to reduce the opportunity for similar subscriber emails to be sent, and shared the form with those including the Courts, Netsafe, and the Department of Internal Affairs, so that they can provide timely notification of new orders as and when they are made.
Little has since said he welcomes Google’s suspension of a system.
“Google have offered to immediately suspend the part of the system that led to suppressed information being breached. I welcome this responsible approach by Google,” he said.
“Work on how suppression orders will be upheld in the digital age will continue. I look forward to constructive engagement with Google and other multinational tech corporations on long term solutions.”
The suspension of Trends comes at a time when governments are increasingly grappling with questions surrounding how tech companies handle content and privacy. In May, New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern garnered support from world leaders, tech companies, and organisations through the adoption of a pledge that seeks to eliminate terrorist and violent extremist content online, and stop the internet from being used as a tool for terrorists.
Last week, Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison received the backing of G20 leaders to persuade online platforms to block the streaming or uploading of terrorism content.
“The internet must not be a safe haven for terrorists to recruit, incite or prepare terrorist acts. To this end, we urge online platforms to adhere to the core principle, as affirmed in Hamburg, that the rule of law applies online as it does offline,” the G20 leaders said in a joint statement [PDF].
“This must be achieved in a way that is consistent with national and international law, including human rights and fundamental freedoms such as freedom of expression and access to information — we hold these in high regard.”
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