Google backpedals after NZ murder suspect gaffe

WELLINGTON • Google agreed yesterday to change how it publishes New Zealand news after Wellington lashed out at it for breaching court orders in a murder case.

The social media firm had refused to tighten publication standards after sending a news e-mail to subscribers last December that named an accused killer, in violation of a court suppression order.

Justice Minister Andrew Little has accused Google of "giving the middle finger" to New Zealand's courts and the family of British murder victim Grace Millane. He said Google's one-paragraph response to Wellington's concerns, which indicated no action was pending, was "contemptible" and "extraordinarily disrespectful".

Google insisted yesterday that it respected New Zealand law, saying there had been a "miscommunication" and that it was taking the issue seriously. "We understand the right to a fair trial and acknowledge that this is a fundamental part of the legal system," it said in a letter to Mr Little's office.

Google also said its Trends feature which led to the accused's name being published had been suspended in New Zealand.

"This means that people will no longer receive e-mails on any trending searches for New Zealand, and provides even further assurance against any recurrence."

Mr Little has welcomed the change, saying: "Work on how suppression orders will be upheld in the digital age will continue."

Ms Millane, 22, was killed last December when on holiday in Auckland. A 27-year-old man has pleaded not guilty to her murder.

This is the second time New Zealand has taken social media giants to task in recent months. Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern led global efforts to curb online hate speech after the Christchurch mosque massacre in March, when a gunman killed 51 Muslims during Friday prayers.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 06, 2019, with the headline 'Google backpedals after NZ murder suspect gaffe'. Print Edition | Subscribe