Suit accuses Google of profiting from child porn

N.Y. politician accuses search giant of refusing to block material and of letting such sites advertise via "sponsored links."

Google has made child pornography an "obscenely profitable and integral part" of its business and must be stopped, a new lawsuit claims.

Jeffrey Toback, a Democratic representative in New York's Nassau County Legislature, charged in a complaint filed Thursday that Google has been taking in billions of dollars by allowing child pornography and "other obscene content" operators to advertise their sites through sponsored links, which are tailored to a user's search terms and automatically accompany search results. The suit was filed in the New York Supreme Court.

Among other allegations, the complaint evoked the politically volatile topic of the search engine's dealings in China .

"Defendant is willing to accede to the demands of the Chinese autocrats to block the search term 'democracy,'" the complaint states, "but when it comes to the protection and well-being of our nation's innocent children, Defendant refuses to spend a dime's worth of resources to block child pornography from reaching children."

A Google representative said Friday that the company prohibits child pornography in its products and removes all such content whenever the company finds or is made aware of it. "We also report it to the appropriate law enforcement officials and fully cooperate with the law enforcement community to combat child pornography," spokesman Steve Langdon said in an e-mail.

Langdon pointed to the content policy for Google's AdWords sponsored links service, which broadly prohibits "promotion of child pornography or other non-consensual material." Langdon also noted that Google offers a filtering tool called SafeSearch that aims to block offensive content in search results.

The availability of such tools could mean that the suit may not go far. Section 230 of the federal Communications Decency Act protects providers and users of an "interactive computer service" from liability if it can be shown that they took good-faith measures to restrict access to obscene material. It also provides that "no provider or user of an interactive computer service shall be treated as the publisher or speaker of any information provided by another information content provider."

The suit, which claims Google acted negligently and intentionally inflicted emotional distress on the public, requests monetary damages to be determined at trial. It also accuses Google of violating federal statutes relating to child pornography and calls for the court to order that Google cease "advertising, promoting, or distributing" child pornography through its site or otherwise providing any links to such content.

The suit was filed by the White Plains, N.Y.-based firm of Meiselman, Denlea, Packman, Carton & Eberz. Other recent lawsuits filed by the firm have sought at least $10 million for alleged sex discrimination against Atlantic City, N.J., casino cocktail waitresses and $600 million from the maker of an ephedra-based dietary supplement claimed to cause the death of a Baltimore Orioles pitcher.

Toback, the politician backing the action, describes himself in his biography on Nassau County's Web site as a "quality of life guy" who has focused on legislation promoting open space and recreational areas. He has also co-sponsored a law designed to protect teenagers from tanning beds and has planned this year to pursue a ban of toy guns in the area.

The legal action against Google comes as Congress and the Bush administration have been attempting to step up their crackdown on online sexual exploitation of children. The Justice Department has proposed a mandatory labeling system for sites bearing sexually explicit content and higher penalties for Internet service providers that don't report child pornography on their networks to the appropriate authorities.

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