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

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 £60,000 (€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.

'I Don't Understand Why This Is So Difficult'

SPIEGEL: Google views itself as a neutral distribution platform that solely helps people find third-party content. To what extent should the company be held liable for the illegal conduct of others?

Mosley: That's the big debate. Some argue that Google is only the owner of a wall where others paint their graffiti. Why should the owner be held liable for that? My answer is this: Because Google supplies the spray paint. I am not demanding that Google filters out illegal content on its own. But the company does need to respond if it is given notice about that content. I don't understand why this is so difficult. I also consider Google's concern that it will have to filter thousands of photos to be baseless. We're talking about a handful of cases.

SPIEGEL: Where is the line between the protection of privacy rights and censorship on the Internet?

Mosley: That is very obvious to me: Where there is a clear court ruling.

SPIEGEL: Have you been attacked by Internet activists because they believe you want to censor the free web?

Mosley: A little bit on the Internet. But when I am out onto the street, I often run into people who come up to me and encourage me by saying fighting is the right thing to do.

SPIEGEL: You have the kind of time and money to defend your rights that most others don't have. How can it be helpful to others that Max Mosley has defended his right to privacy against Google?

Mosley: It increases the chances that Google will react more reasonably in the future. One would hope that somebody at Google will now sit down and consider whether it is really a sensible thing on which to spend their shareholders' money and their executives' time.

SPIEGEL: You reportedly sent a letter to Google Executive Chairman Eric Schmidt. Did you ever get an answer?

Mosley: Prior to the trial, I did offer to talk to him through a lawyer we both know. But I didn't get a positive answer. Maybe I should try again now that the verdicts from France and Germany are in.

SPIEGEL: How much have you spent on the legal fight so far?

Mosley: I'm almost ashamed to say this, I've never added it up. Litigation is less expensive in Germany and France than it is in Britain. I suppose it has been some hundreds of thousands of euros, but certainly not one million. Thanks to my German lawyer Tanja Irion, more money comes in every time websites or newspapers illegally publish the photos.

SPIEGEL: Google has already announced it will appeal the decision in Germany. Are you prepared to carry through to the very end even if Google wins at the next stage?

Mosley: Yes. If necessary, we will take this all the way to Germany's Bundesgerichtshof (Federal Court of Justice). But perhaps Google will grow up by then.

SPIEGEL: How much of your personal time are you dedicating to the legal fight?

Mosley: Oh, probably less than 5 percent. I spend most of my time trying to ensure that Britain gets a proper press regulation following the Murdoch scandal. In recent months, I've been writing my autobiography. At some point it occurred to me that I haven't even mentioned Google.

SPIEGEL: Do you still use Google as a search engine?

Mosley: Yes. I even use Gmail. I am certain that Google reads all my emails.

SPIEGEL: How does your family cope with the fact that you will probably still be suing years from now?

Mosley: My wife and my two sons were always on my side. Prior to the story with the News of the World heating up, the conventional wisdom in England had been that it's better not to sue because the issue will have been long forgotten by the time it gets to court. A trial makes public again everything that you wanted to keep private. It's actually not very clever to sue, but I said: I'm not going to put up with this.

SPIEGEL: What would you advise people in similar situations to do?

Mosley: I'd say defend yourselves! If people don't defend their rights, they lose them. But it is also clear to me that it is a financial issue.

SPIEGEL: What is privacy worth in times when the NSA is collecting billions of text messages, emails and phone data?

Mosley: The NSA argues that its work protects the public from terrorism. I personally would be prepared to take a slightly higher risk of terrorism if my privacy were respected and my emails were left alone. It's like in road traffic: The danger of accidents decreases when everyone just drives at 30 miles per hour. But that is not want we want. In a democracy, the public should be asked how much security and how much privacy they want for themselves. But that hasn't happened. It is only thanks to Edward Snowden that we know what happened.

SPIEGEL: So you now have to pay for governments' failures with your own money?

Mosley: Yes, to some extent. Governments always act once the damage has been done -- they tend to lag behind developments. Still, you don't necessarily need stricter laws. European governments could, for example, say: If a company doesn't respect European law, then it can't do business here.

SPIEGEL: If you could make a wish for what people should find first when they enter your name in a Google search, what would it be?

Mosley: In an ideal world, I would wish for people to read a story about my efforts to increase road safety. If there is anything in my life where I made a difference, it is to make road cars safer.

SPIEGEL: How would you feel if people instead read: Max Mosley a pioneer in the fight for privacy on the Internet?

Mosley: No. That's what the courts are there for.

SPIEGEL: Mr. Mosley, we thank you for this interview.

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