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5/22/2009
03:35 PM
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Google Sued By Inventor of Vibrating Toilet Seat

Johnny I. Henry says he was humiliated that Google and AOL returned search results that refer to him with a hateful term.

Google this week was sued, along with AOL, by Johnny I. Henry, the inventor of a vibrating toilet seat.

Note the use of the indefinite article "a," rather than the definite article "the," to indicate that there might be more than one such device. According to Google Patents, two other inventors received a patent for a vibrating toilet seat of their own in 1990.

Though Google is known for its use of high-tech toilets, this is not a patent claim.

Henry, an African American, claims that search results delivered by Google and AOL defame and slander him.

The search results at issue lead to sites that refer to Henry with a hateful racial epithet. They include that epithet in the snippet of text culled from the sites.

In his pro se filing, Henry claims that he was humiliated and horrified to discover that Google and AOL would allow such sites to be presented.

Had Henry chosen to use Google with the SafeSearch preference set to "Use strict filtering," he wouldn't have seen the sites and been offended. That's because the sites in question appear to host sexual content. "Safe Search currently applies to sexual content only, not to racial epithets," explained a Google official in an e-mail.

Beyond its automated filtering mechanism, Google makes an attempt to mitigate the presence of offensive search results for one particular term: "Jew." A search for that keyword returns a Google-sponsored advertisement with the link "Offensive Search Results." The landing page provides an explanation of why search results associated with the term may be offensive.

A search for the epithet used against Henry does not return such an ad.

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