A Tokyo District Court has ruled that Google must alter its autocomplete results to make sure they don’t suggest criminal activity when users search for a specific man’s name.
This case began in March of 2012 when a Japanese court demanded that Google delete certain search terms inside their autocomplete function – ones that related to a specific man whose identity is still being witheld. The man claimed that when his name was searched, suggestions popped up linking him to criminal activity of which he was innocent. Clicking through to the links provided led user to websites filled with further defamation.
Not only did the plaintiff allege that Google’s autocomplete results caused him pain and personal anguish, but they also contributed to him losing his job and being unable to procure another.
Now, the court has ruled that Google must alter their results in the case of this anonymous man. They also ordered that Google pay 300,000 yen ($3,100) for the man’s pain and suffering – but not the job loss as he couldn’t prove that the two were definitely linked.
Well, it’s another day, another foreign court making a ruling on Google autocomplete. We’ve seen plenty of this in the past. Back in January of 2012, Google chose to pay a fine issued by a French court over the company’s autocomplete results. A local insurance company complained that Google autocomplete associated their name with the term “esroc,” roughly translating to mean “crook” or “swindler.”
Later in the year, Google made another deal in a French case, this time involving autocomplete results that labeled certain high-profile celebrities and politicians as “Jewish.” The complaint was originally filed by French anti-racism groups.
Google has also been in trouble in Germany and Italy over their autocomplete results.
Of course, Google’s autocomplete results stem from an algorithm that is based on prior searches. Google does not manually select which terms pop up when you type in any query.
“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,” says Google.
But that hasn’t stopped courts from ordering that Google manually intervene in certain circumstances.
Since Google Search isn’t rooted in Japan, Google isn’t required to follow this ruling – just like they weren’t required to follow the previous injunction the court issued in the case (and they didn’t). The ruling, however, can be appealed.