Google is next in line to face the wrath of celebrities that were victims of last month's nude-image hacking scandal.
In a broad indictment of the search giant, Martin Singer, an attorney at Lavely & Singer in Los Angeles, said that Google's conduct was "despicable [and] reprehensible" when, his clients believe, the company did not "act expeditiously and responsibly to remove" images stolen in a broad celebrity hack of Apple iCloud accounts. Singer is representing "over a dozen female celebrities, actresses, models, and athletes" whose images were stolen from their iCloud accounts.
"Google is making millions and profiting from the victimization of women," the attorney wrote in a letter to Google's top executives, including CEO Larry Page and Executive Chairman Eric Schmidt. "As a result of your blatantly unethical behavior, Google is exposed to significant liability and both compensatory and punitive damages that could well exceed $100 million."
Google asserted that it had acted responsibly. "We've removed tens of thousands of pictures -- within hours of the requests being made -- and we have closed hundreds of accounts," a Google spokesperson told CNET. "The Internet is used for many good things. Stealing people's private photos is not one of them."
Last month, several nude images of celebrities were posted to image-based bulletin board 4chan. The images wereowned by actress Jennifer Lawrence, model Kate Upton, recording artist Ariana Grande and others. Before long, the images quickly spread across the Internet and hit both search engines and social media.
Most major websites, including Google, acted to remove the images from their sites. Google, the attorney for the celebrities claimed, was less-than-expeditious in removing the images. In September, The Hollywood Reporter said that 51 percent of the URLs containing the nude images were scrubbed from Google's search results. As of this writing, CNET was able to find some of the nude images on Google's Image search, though they were few and far between.
In the letter written to Google, the attorney said takedown notices were sent to Google four weeks ago, but the nude images can still be accessed on Google, as well at its other services, YouTube and Blogspot.
Google said that it is removing the photos from YouTube, Blogspot and Google+, based on user policy breaches, like nudity or privacy violations. The company also noted that its turnaround on these issues is usually hours, not weeks.
"This is unconscionable, especially for a company that boasts that its conduct should be 'measured against the highest possible standards of ethical business conduct,'" the attorney wrote. He went on to laud Twitter for "immediately removing the images and suspending the offending user accounts."
The letter to Google appears at this point to simply be a warning shot, but the attorney left open the possibility of the celebrities suing Google. The letter ended with three demands, telling Google to: remove the images from its sites, terminate user accounts that are hosting the images and remove accounts on Blogspot that are displaying the photos. The attorney also asked for data preservation on all alleged offenders for possible litigation at a later time.
"The seriousness of this matter cannot be overstated," Singer said. "If Google continues to thumb its nose at my clients' rights -- and continues to both allow and facilitate the further victimization of these women -- and disregards the demands of this letter, it does so as its own peril."
(Via Hollywood Reporter)
Updated, 12:18 p.m. PT: Adds statement and information from Google.