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Google to pay man for destructive search result

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Google has been ordered to pay a prominent Canadian businessman half-a-million dollars for failing to remove a defamatory search result of his name.

The man, whose identity is under a publication ban, sued Google for sharing a link to a post that falsely accused him of being a paedophile.

The plaintiff claimed his life and business suffered significantly as a result.

Google has refused to comment on the case.

In a ruling issued late last month, a judge in the Canadian province of Quebec ordered the technology company to pay C$500,000 ($371,652; £298,200) in damages to the businessman, saying his life had become a "walking nightmare" due to the defamatory post.

"Like Franz Kafka's character, Josef K. in The Trial, the Plaintiff woke up one day to find himself accused of a crime he did not commit," Judge Azimuddin Hussain wrote in his ruling.

"In the Plaintiff's case, he was accused of already having been convicted of the crime and a particularly heinous crime at that," he wrote.

The unnamed businessman, who is in his early 70s, accused Google of spreading the defamatory post through its search engine.

He said he first discovered the post in 2007 after searching his own name. Since then, he said potential clients have backed out of deals because of the post.

His friends testified they refused to help him secure work because they believed his reputation had been harmed beyond repair.

One of the man's sons, who is also said to be a high-profile figure, also testified that his girlfriend's parents refused to meet his father because of the post.

According to the ruling, the man asked Google to remove the post multiple times over the years.

In 2009, Google removed the post from the search results on its Canadian website, but it later resurfaced in 2011 and remained on the US version of the site.

The post then resurfaced again in 2015. The man wrote to Google again asking the company to remove it, but it refused to do so.

In his ruling, Judge Hussain said the case raises "unprecedented questions" in Quebec law about how much a company like Google is liable when it shares false and defamatory internet posts of individuals on its search engine.

Because Google had already recognised that the post was defamatory enough to remove on its Canadian website, the judge ruled that the company erred in allowing the link to later resurface.

The plaintiff is said to be a lawyer and businessman who helped campaign for a former prime minister of Canada, and who once assisted in a high-profile US Senate inquiry.

He then undertook a successful career as a real estate broker and developer, according to the ruling.

"Before, he was an outsized personality, full of swagger and self-confidence," the judge wrote about the businessman. After the post, he wrote the man "became a shell of his former self, prone to anger, reclusiveness, heavy drinking, and suicidal thoughts."

During the trial, Google argued that Quebec defamation law did not apply to the case, and that it was not obligated under US law to remove the harmful post from its search engine.

The California-based company declined to comment on the case in response to questions from the BBC.

Instead, it pointed to its existing protocols and processes for flagging potentially harmful content.

"We take inappropriate content seriously," Google's website states, linking to a form in which people can report the content they want to be taken down.

Another post from Google's website stated that the search engine uses "automated systems to discover content from the web and other sources", and that the company has "carefully developed" policies to flag harmful posts.