"Google argued that it could not be held liable because it is a hosting provider, but we showed that this is content produced by them, although through automated means. Therefore in this case the search engine cannot avail itself of the safe harbor provision of the [European Union's] e-commerce directive," Piana wrote.
Technology expert Guido Scorza took a contrary view, arguing in his blog that there was nothing defamatory about Google's conduct.
The search engine had simply registered the fact that a number of users had combined AB's name with the words "fraud" and "fraudster," Scorza wrote. "The suggestions merely recounted the history of other people's searches and made them available to new users," he said.
The Milan ruling follows similar controversies in France, Sweden and Brazil, and comes just over a year after three Google executives were handed suspended six-month prison sentences in Milan for allowing a video showing the bullying of a handicapped boy to be posted on Google Video.
It also has elements in common with a ruling by a Rome court last month that ordered Yahoo to remove links from its search engine that led to pirated copies of an Iranian film.
Google was disappointed by the court's decision because it failed to take account of the fact that Autocomplete was based on the search behaviors of prior users, the company said in a written statement. "For the moment we are considering all our options," it said.