Google Suspends New Zealand Trending Email Alerts After Releasing Murder Suspect's Name

Google suspended its trending email Alerts that list top search terms in New Zealand after violating a court order to suppress the name of a murder suspect.

The man was accused of killing 22-year-old British backpacker Grace Millane, according to one report.

New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern expressed disappointment in Google’s mistake, but a spokeswoman for the company told Reuters in an email: “we understand the sensitivity around this issue and we have suspended Google Trends emails about searches trending in New Zealand.”

During a press conference, Ardern said “there should be mechanisms in place” to uphold the law across international borders regardless of the challenges around new technology.

Google broke New Zealand law last year by naming the suspect in the Millane murder case. Earlier this week, Justice Minister Andrew Little released an email from Google's New Zealand government affairs manager Ross Young that said: "We have looked at our systems and it appears that last year's situation was relatively unique as it was a high-profile case, involving a person from overseas, which was extensively reported by overseas media."

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Suspending the alerts service in New Zealand comes during a time when publishers and technology companies such as Google, Facebook and others wrestle with taking responsibility for the content published on their respective platforms.

The scenario calls into question the responsibility of news aggregators and publishers to follow court orders and to be accountable for the content that is published online as well as the surrounding ads that appear in search results, on publisher and social media sites, and across video platforms like YouTube.

Some say platforms need to do more. Last month during the Cannes Lions festival, major marketing platforms, social media companies, advertisers such as Procter & Gamble and agency holding companies announced the formation of the Global Alliance for Responsible Media to tackle hate speech, bullying and fake content online.  

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