In a recent cyber-defamation case, a Japanese court ordered Google to suspend autocomplete searches queries related to a specific man’s name. The plaintiff has argued that the autocomplete results, which include suggestions related to crimes he did not commit, have caused him to lose a job and prevented him from finding gainful employment.
Hiroyuki Tomita, the plaintiff’s attorney, is opposed to the autocomplete system and believes that the whole autocomplete system needs to be revised:
“It could lead to irretrievable damage such as a loss of job or bankruptcy just by showing search results that constitute defamation or a violation of the privacy of an individual person or small and medium-sized companies.”
Google has stated they are “reviewing the order,” but the search engine has not complied with the court’s instructions at this time. Today, Google released the following statement:
“A Japanese court issued a provisional order requesting Google to delete specific terms from autocomplete. The judge did not require Google to completely suspend the autocomplete function.”
The autocomplete results are mechanically generated by an algorithm that is based on several factors related to the popularity and volume of search queries. Since the autocomplete functionality is based on an algorithm and not manually edited, Google continues to argue that the system is not an invasion of privacy:
“Google does not determine these terms manually – all of the queries shown in autocomplete have been typed previously by other Google users.”
This case is not the first time Google has faced legal actions for the autocomplete functionality. After the algorithm came under scrutiny in 2010, Google agreed to alter the autocomplete results and prevent terms from appearing if they were related to illegal piracy. In addition to the piracy case, there is an ongoing case between Google and a UK man who is attempting to remove certain search suggestions related to private stories about his sex life. While the autocomplete feature is mechanically engineered, the algorithm already censors results that are related to registered trademarks, porn, offensive language, piracy, and violence.
Do you think Google should be held responsible for autocomplete searches related to an individual’s name or that the feature improves the search engine?