Update: A Google spokesperson gave WebProNews 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. Google is currently reviewing the order.
“Autocomplete is a feature of Google search that offers predicted searches to help you more quickly find what you’re looking for. These searches are produced by a number of factors including the popularity of search terms. Google does not determine these terms manually–all of the queries shown in Autocomplete have been typed previously by other Google users.”
Google’s autocomplete feature is getting the company in some hot water again.
Earlier this year, a court in Paris ruled against Google in a case involving autocomplete, where Google was showing a term that meant “crook” in suggested searches for an insurance firm. Google ended up being fined a reported $65,000.
Now, Google has reportedly been ordered by a Japanese court to suspend the autocomplete feature, after a search for the man’s name bought up suggestions associating it with crimes he apparently did not commit. The man’s lawyer reportedly said the feature breaches the man’s privacy – this, according to AFP.
Sure, autocomplete can turn up unfavorable results for the subject (whether or not this puts Google at fault is debatable), but is this really a privacy issue?
Google’s explanation for how autocomplete works (from its help center) says:
As you type, Google’s algorithm predicts and displays search queries based on other users’ search activities. If you’re signed in to your Google Account and have Web History enabled, you might also see search queries from relevant searches that you’ve done in the past. In addition, Google+ profiles can sometimes appear in autocomplete when you search for a person’s name. Apart from the Google+ profiles that may appear, all of the predicted queries that are shown in the drop-down list have been typed previously by Google users.
For certain queries, Google will show separate predictions for just the last few words. Below the word that you’re typing in the search box, you’ll see a smaller drop-down list containing predictions based only on the last words of your query. While each prediction shown in the drop-down list has been typed before by Google users, the combination of your primary text along with the completion may be unique.
Predicted queries are algorithmically determined based on a number of purely algorithmic factors (including popularity of search terms) without human intervention. The autocomplete data is updated frequently to offer fresh and rising search queries.
Interestingly, the name of the man involved in the Japanese case is not being known. Ironically, it’s likely that Google would suggest more results based on this very story for searches for his name, had it been made public, in effect diluting the results indicating that he had committed any crimes.
According to multiple reports, Google is not disabling the autocomplete feature in Japan on grounds that as it is based in the U.S. and the feature adheres to U.S. law, which the company reportedly says, cannot be regulated by Japanese law.