Newspaper article International Herald Tribune

Ex-First Lady of Germany Lashes out at Rumors ; She Breaks Long Silence with Suit against Google, Interviews and a Memoir

Newspaper article International Herald Tribune

Ex-First Lady of Germany Lashes out at Rumors ; She Breaks Long Silence with Suit against Google, Interviews and a Memoir

Article excerpt

With a lawsuit against Google, a memoir and interviews, Bettina Wulff has broken her silence about whispers that she had once been an escort.

In an earlier, more innocent era, the shocking rumors about the past of Germany's former first lady would have stayed in the drawing rooms of the political elite whence they sprung. Instead, the accusations appeared unbidden where anyone could see them: On Google's ubiquitous search engine.

Say, for instance, that a schoolchild was writing a homework assignment about the former first lady, Bettina Wulff, and entered her name into Google. "Bettina Wulff prostitute," Google's autocomplete function would helpfully but perhaps slanderously suggest. "Bettina Wulff escort" would pop up for good measure.

"I was stunned," Ms. Wulff, who vehemently denies the accusations, told the weekly newsmagazine Stern, one of several publications to feature her on the cover in recent weeks. "I felt powerless and cried a lot."

As a result, Ms. Wulff, whose husband, Christian Wulff, resigned as president in the midst of his own scandal over favors from wealthy friends back in February, is now the leading player in a latter-day fable mixing gossip, sharp-elbowed politics and new technology. She has ended her prolonged silence and taken an aggressive tack against the rumors, including filing a lawsuit against Google in a Hamburg court.

Her lawsuit is the latest effort to force Google to play online referee, a demand that recently came to the fore with a video that sparked violent demonstrations across the Muslim world and led Google to block it in some countries.

In Ms. Wulff's case, Google has countered that the company is not to blame for her troubles. "All of the queries shown in Autocomplete have been typed previously by other Google users," Kay Oberbeck, a spokesman for the company, said in a statement.

It is the curiosity of the many and not the assessment of the company causing the offending terms to pop up. The algorithm did it, in other words.

Not content with litigation, Ms. Wulff has begun her own publicity campaign. Her freshly published memoir, a tell-all with chapters titled "The Men" and "The Tattoo," this week became the best-selling nonfiction book in Germany. …

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