Max Mosley: Google Is So 'Arrogant They Do Whatever They Like'

Interview By and

In an interview, former racing boss Max Mosley discusses his successful legal battle against Google to filter out compromising sex photos, the fight for Internet privacy in the era of NSA spying and his endless quest for justice.

Born in London in 1940, Max Mosley served as the long-time president of the Fédération Internationale de l'Automobile (FIA), the governing body for Formula One and other international motor sports. The 73-year-old's name is one of the best-known in the motor racing world. On March 30, 2008, the now defunct, Rupert Murdoch-owned News of the World tabloid published stills from video images secretly taken of an S&M party involving Mosley and uniformed women.

In July 2008, Mosley won a British High Court case against News of the World for invasion of privacy. The court ordered the newspaper to pay a fine of Ł60,000 (€76,000). The court also stated there was "no evidence that the gathering on March 28, 2008, was intended to be an enactment of Nazi behavior or adoption of any of its attitudes."

For years, Google continued to list search results containing links to illegal photos of Mosley. He sued in both France and Germany to have the images automatically filtered out of search results. In November 2013, a Paris court ordered Google to filter out nine images. The California-based company says it has already started the appeals process against that ruling. On Friday, a Hamburg regional court issued a similar verdict. It ordered Google to block six images showing the racing boss in a compromising setting with multiple women.

After the ruling, Mosley sat down with SPIEGEL to discuss his battle against Google and his efforts to protect his right to privacy.


SPIEGEL: Mr. Mosley, how does it feel to have defeated Google?

Mosley: Very good. I knew when I started it would be a long, long process. But the issue was so clear and simple. We could all have saved a lot of time if Google had filtered the pictures out of the Net immediately. I don't understand why they fought against it in this way, even drafting 70-page pleadings.

SPIEGEL: Following a similar ruling in Paris, the Hamburg regional court last week ordered Google to remove six photos from your private sex party from its search results. Do you think it will be possible someday to just be Max Mosley again and not the man known for having a sadomasochistic orgy?

Mosley: I can't undo what has happened. It is clear to me that I will always be known for this story. That's annoying -- you work all your life doing something serious and then something like this happens and that becomes your label.

SPIEGEL: Does your victory in court also demonstrate that an individual isn't powerless against a giant like Google?

Mosley: Absolutely. Above all, it is proof of how important it is for us to have courts. They don't care if someone has power, influence or fame.

SPIEGEL: Why did you sue Google in Germany and not in Great Britain or the United States, where the images in question are likely to get more clicks?

Mosley: It is enormously expensive to sue in the US. Besides, to be honest, I have very little confidence in the US courts. If I had sued in England, it would have been seen as an entirely English thing. The truth is that it's a European issue. And that's why I took it to Germany and France -- both countries have weight in Europe.

SPIEGEL: Why are you going after Google? You could also sue the numerous websites that repeatedly publish the photographs.

Mosley: We tried doing that, too, but it is never-ending. Besides, most people don't even know these sites -- they only become significant when Google finds them. The nature of search engines is that they can make a major issue out of something small that no person would otherwise be able to find. And among the search engines, Google is of course the biggest.

SPIEGEL: Google regularly deletes photos from its search results -- 76 in November alone. Doesn't that indicate that the company has recognized your concerns?

Mosley: The curious thing is this: If you ask Google to "take down these pictures," then they do it, even though they aren't very quick about it. At the same time, Google denies that it has the technological capacity to filter out images. But that's nonsense. They are actually lying. And this despite their motto "Don't Be Evil". There's something seriously wrong with Google. Technologically, they're brilliant, sensational. But morally, its management is completely adolescent. The company is so big and so arrogant, they do whatever they like, they think they are above the law.

SPIEGEL: If you do a Google Image search in Germany for Max Mosley, the autocomplete function offers the term "intimate party" or "prostitute video". Why don't you try to get them to stop making those suggestions?

Mosley: That's next on our list -- in Germany and in France. Bettina Wulff, the ex-wife of the former German president, is also currently taking action against Google for this reason. The two rulings that we have fought for do send a message. That's why we are also considering suing Google in Britain and in California, where it is headquartered.

SPIEGEL: Google argues that installing a filter wouldn't be of much help to you, anyway, because if the photos differ even marginally, the filter wouldn't be able to find them.

Mosley: That doesn't tie in with the fact that the filter works very well when it comes to child pornography. The images don't have to be identical. Google even offers a "similar pictures" feature on its page that suggests similar photos. So it is technically possible.

SPIEGEL: Google considers it to be disproportionate and unacceptable for it to have to create a filter like that exclusively for Max Mosley.

Mosley: A competent programmer wouldn't need more than an hour -- and at Google, even an intern could probably do it.

SPIEGEL: Even courts often disagree about which photos breach your right of privacy outright and thus have to be filtered. How should Google proceed in such a situation?

Mosley: Strictly speaking Google has got to obey German courts in Germany and French courts in France. But in the end it has to decide whether it wants to live in a democracy. Google behaves like an adolescent rebelling against the establishment. The company has to recognize that it is a part of society and it must accept the responsibility which comes with that.

SPIEGEL: But how should Google respond when courts in countries with dubious reputations for democracy rule that content has to be deleted? The company can't possibly decide on its own which court decisions from which countries it is willing to accept or reject.

Mosley: I know that this is difficult. Of course Google would have to delete images following a related ruling in Russia, for example. But the company could still consider making them accessible in other parts of the world. At the same time, I expect that Google respects rulings from proper Western democratic countries.

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1. Mosley hasn't a clue
dtechba 01/29/2014
I realise he is a race guy whom has more than likely zero understanding of how the Internet works but his inability to understand this is becoming mulish. Google only has a limited ability to tracka picture. There isn't some picture recognition device out the that can 100 percent identify a picture travelling the Internet. If he didn't want to have a picture on the Internet he shouldn't have performed the act. His rants at Google are just whining trying to blame someone else for his own poor conduct. Stop giving this guy more than his 15 minutes of fame, he is becoming tedious.
2. Mosley's endless game of Whack-A-Mole
fung.pee 01/30/2014
Mosley, not Google, created/was featured in the offensive acts - Google just reports what it finds. For example. Google sells it's own software yet, in response to a search, it also reveals web sites which can provide serial numbers to open the software. This proves that Google is even-handed. Occasionally I ask friends "Who is Max Mosley" and they invariably answer "A dirty old man with porn pictures on the InterNet". Nothing about racing cars or that his father was a British traitor during WW2. So Mosley has scored a few hits - not a big deal - the pages are still out there and Google, as well many other search engines, still return the same old pictures in other jurisdictions. Mosley chose to be a public figure, so he should expect this sort of thing - it goes with the territory.
3. optional
peskyvera 01/30/2014
No friend of Google here, but...you put something in the internet, then expect to see it circulated world-wide.
4. Re: Mosley's endless game of Whack-A-Mole
julesmoules 01/31/2014
'offensive acts'? I wouldn't remotely call them offensive. Now, interfering with the Queen's corgis might elicit a different response. But see what happened here... A individual, in a private capacity, took part in a 'party'. A newspaper published photos. Mosley took them to court, and won, on the principle of an improper invasion of personal privacy. The newspaper was forced to apologise, pay damages, and delete that content from their record. Irrespective of what you, or I, think of this matter. So why the unnecessarily personal comment? More to point, as a citizen of a member country of the EU, he has every right to expect, and to fight for the principle that his privacy be respected across the EU. Screw the internet. This is much bigger than that: a decision by a lawful jurisprudence has declared the content private and instructed a commercial enterprise to delete reference to it. Full stop. If Google do not delete that content they are in contempt of court. They, Google, should be punished in accordance to law. This is about the supremacy of law and NOT about Mosley's character, background or personal tastes.
5. A useless battle
Researcher 01/31/2014
I just ran a search through Google - "Mosley orgy" - all the pictures are still up and I suspect google will never manage to get rid of them. So a court victory yes, but a loss in practice anyway.
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