Lawyers of celebrities whose private pictures were published by hackers are threatening to sue Google for $100m for failing to remove the images from its search results and sites.
Los Angeles-based law firm Lavely & Singer, which represents more than a dozen of the women affected, said Google should be held accountable.
The law firm accuses Google of “making millions from the victimisation of women” after stolen private images of Jennifer Lawrence and other celebrities were widely distributed online in September 2014.
At the time, Lawrence confirmed the pictures were genuine and threatened to prosecute anyone who posted the stolen photos online.
In a letter to Google, lawyer Marty Singer claimed the company had failed “to act expeditiously and responsibly to remove the images”, the New York Post reported.
The letter accused Google of profiting from the images by “knowingly accommodating, facilitating and perpetuating” publication of the images on its sites, including YouTube and Blogspot.
Singer said the images are still on these sites, despite letters to Google sent shortly after the leak to demand they be removed under the US Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA).
“Because the victims are celebrities with valuable publicity rights you do nothing – nothing but collect millions of dollars in advertising revenue as you seek to capitalise on this scandal rather than quash it,” the lawyer said in his most recent letter to the internet firm.
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Singer claimed he had written to various website operators and internet service providers to demand the images be taken down, and most complied within hours.
Google, by contrast, had “recklessly allowed these blatant violations to continue" without regard to the rights of his clients, the lawyer said.
But Google claims it has removed tens of thousands of pictures within hours of the requests being made and closed hundreds of accounts.
“The internet is used for many good things. Stealing people’s private photos is not one of them,” a Google spokesperson said in a statement to The Guardian.
If Singer carries out his threat to go to court, it will not be the first time Google has faced legal action over inadvertently facilitating the spread of nude photos, the paper said.
In March 2014, Texan Hollie Toups sued Yahoo and Google for failing to remove links to pictures of herself hosted on a revenge porn site.
Like Singer, Toups claimed she had sent Google proper notice, requesting links to the pictures be taken down, but the company refused to do so.
News of the potential lawsuit against Google coincides with the leak of another set of photographs of minor celebrities in compromising positions.
Photographs of actresses AnnaLynne McCord, Nina Dobrev and Joanna Krupa, as well as model Erin Cummins and Nick Hogan – son of wrestler Hulk Hogan – were leaked this week, Mashable reported.
Cloud-based services vulnerable to cyber attacks
Information security professionals believe the celebrity photo leaks will help raise awareness of the vulnerability of cloud-based services to cyber attacks.
“Cloud services are great if they are used appropriately, but most companies have not worked out what this means,” said Kenneth Yearwood, UK sales director for Guidance Software.
“Sensitive data is better kept in-house, but for run-of-the-mill data, the cloud provides a convenient and cost-effective option for storage,” he told Computer Weekly.
According to Yearwood, many companies have failed to separate their data into sensitive and non-sensitive categories.
“But by doing that and ensuring no sensitive data is in the cloud, companies can eliminate a huge amount of risk,” he said.