Tánaiste Micheál Martin has claimed in High Court proceedings that fake adverts on legitimate websites have been used to defame him by using his image and links to false “pseudo-newspaper articles” associating him with a cryptocurrency scam.
Mr Martin, the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Minister for Defence, was on Thursday given permission by the court to serve at short notice his proceedings on Google Ireland Ltd and Google LLC in which he seeks the identity of those behind the ads.
The application for short service was made by Padraic Lyons SC, with Daragh Breen, instructed by solicitor Catherine Ardagh, with only Mr Martin’s side represented.
Mr Lyons said that since a complaint was made to Google the ads had been taken down and the advertiser’s accounts suspended under the platform’s “egregious policy violations”.
Google has told Mr Martin’s lawyers such ads are part of a “global trend” of “scammy bad actors trying to deceive users by enticing them to click into an ad by using popular figures/celebrities along with provocative text or content”.
Google also said it could not under law produce user/customer data to a third party, irrespective of their circumstances, without a court order to do so.
Mr Justice Mark Sanfey said he concurred with the categorisation about the conduct of those who placed the ads as “egregious” and it was a matter that needed to be addressed urgently. He said the case could come back to court next week.
Mr Lyons said it was hoped it would take up little court time because there was every reason to believe there would be “constructive engagement” between his side and Google.
In an affidavit, Mr Martin said two display ads appeared last July on legitimate websites of The Irish Times, the Irish Independent and Done Deal. They were linked to a “lengthy pseudo-newspaper article”.
One featured a photograph of Mr Martin overlaid over images of a luxury residence with a swimming pool seemingly located in foreign jurisdiction and a jet typically used as a private aircraft with text including the words “He shared important information”.
The second ad featured another photograph of Mr Martin in a public setting with text stating: “He did not want to hide this possibility from the people of Ireland.”
The creators of this material used the Google Ads platform to arrange their placement and display on these prominent websites, counsel said.
When a user clicked on the fake newspaper article, purporting to be from the Irish Independent, they saw a headline “Micheál Martin’s Latest Investment Has The Government and Big Banks Terrified”, alongside several photos of Mr Martin.
He said the article purported to reproduce excerpts of interviews Mr Martin had given to RTÉ and The Irish Times in which he supposedly endorsed a “new wealth loophole”, namely a cryptocurrency auto trading programme known as “Immediate Edge”, which can “transform anyone into a millionaire within 3-4 months”.
Mr Martin believes the “Immediate Edge” trading platform appears to be fraudulent, and is certainly an unauthorised and unregulated scheme designed to target vulnerable people with little or no knowledge of cryptocurrency or financial trading. He wants to bring an action for defamation and “passing off” against those behind the ads but is unable to do so until he can identify them.
He claims, among other things, that the material meant he endorsed and used the unregulated financial product Immediate Edge for financial gain and falsely claims he had made “vast profits” from cryptocurrency speculation. He also claims it meant he is dishonest, irresponsible and primarily motivated by personal financial gain.