Google removes 'paedophile' claim on review website

Toni Bennett Toni Bennett said he tried for months to get Google to remove the allegations

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A business owner accused in a Google review of being a paedophile and a thief has said he is delighted that the search giant has removed the entry.

The message was placed on Google's Places review service 18 months ago.

Toni Bennett said he had planned legal action to force Google to delete the false posting after the firm said it did not qualify for removal.

The move comes amid calls on the internet giant to address the rapidly growing problem of fake online reviews.

Online reputation consultants say Google should review its policies and take part in an "honest web summit".

Accusation

A comment by "Paul" was posted on Google's site about Mr Bennett's business - That Computer Chap - on 26 April 2010.

A few days later, Mr Bennett saw it while checking his listings.

"I had to re-read it a few times, to check it was talking about me," he told the BBC.

"I was absolutely gobsmacked."

The review said: "Robbed My RAM and Touched 9 Year Old What a scam artist, he stole RAM from my computer and replaced it with smaller chips hoping I wouldnt notice and also I later found out touched my 9 year old inappropriately. A Violator and a rogue trader. DO NOT DO TRADE WITH THIS MAN!"

Mr Bennett contacted Google on numerous occasions through email.

The IT consultant, from Bridgnorth in the West Midlands, said that he asked a directory assistance service for a contact number, but when he called it no-one answered.

He went to the police, but he said that while they acknowledged the allegations against him were false, they were powerless to intervene.

"It's mad, it's just mad that someone can do this and it's so anonymous that someone can put on something about a crime against a child - you can't get any worse than that, bar killing somebody. And they can get away with it."

Legal action

Mr Bennett estimated that he has lost 80% of his local business. As a result, he said he had intended to sue Google for defamation.

Google told the BBC that it did not comment on individual cases.

"We have rules against things like hate speech or impersonation, but we're not in a position to arbitrate disputes," a company statement said.

"However, we've built a free system that allows business owners to claim their listing, which means that they can then respond to reviews and share their side of the story."

However, the company later removed the posting. It told the BBC that from time to time it re-reviews comments flagged as inappropriate.

Reputation

Chris Emmins set up Kwikchex eight months ago.

The firm offers businesses and consumers help tackling inaccurate feedback posted online and other reputation issues. It is part of a growing industry.

So far Kwikcheck said it had dealt with 3,000 cases of online defamation. Mr Emmins added that it was possible to sabotage a business within five minutes, and that the problem was widespread.

"I think of all the review resources we're looking at at the moment, we are particularly critical of Google," he said.

"You can't really trust anything. There is no verification process whatsoever... There is no easy way of having falsehoods removed."

It is difficult to know how many review sites there are on the web. Thousands spring up every year.

Mr Emmins wants the internet firms to take more responsibility for their content.

He called for Google, Tripadvisor and other review sites to get together for an "honest web summit."

A change in the law could be needed. The relevant statutes were drafted back in the 1990s, when review sites didn't even exist.

"Freedom of speech is a fantastically valuable thing," Mr Emmins said, "but at the moment it's being corrupted entirely... through lack of diligence and possibly lack of ethics."

"The resolutions aren't that difficult."

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