Google’s autocomplete results are not suggestions straight from the brains of Googlers, pecking away on their keyboards. When you type something and Google attempts to finish your thought for you, it’s simply throwing up the most popular searches for that string of word. It’s an algorithm, not manually determined – everything that appears has been previously typed by another Google user.
But that hasn’t stopped plenty of people from going after Google when they don’t like what they see appearing next to their names or businesses. And sometimes successfully, I might add. The latest case to spring from a disputed autocomplete result comes from Germany and is bad news for Google.
A German court has ruled that Google must manually remove autocomplete results if they are determined to be defamatory. This wide ruling could have an effect on not only cases in Germany, but in other countries who could use the decision as a model.
As the AP reports, the case stems from an unidentified plaintiff, only known as “R.S,” whose company sells nutritional supplements. R.S. filed a complaint when they saw that Google autocomplete results associated the name of the company with “fraud” and “Scientology” – both of which they considered defamatory.
A lower court dismissed R.S.’ claim, but the Federal Court of Justice overruled. According to the ruling, Google isn’t being directed to turn of autocomplete or even interfere preemptively, only required to eliminate defamatory autocomplete suggestions when they are brought to the company’s attention.
This isn’t the only case in Germany involving Google’s autocomplete to make headlines. Last year, former German First Lady Bettina Wulff claimed that Google destroyed her reputation with their autocomplete suggestions. Wulff, who has battled rumors that she worked as an escort prior to marrying former German president Christian Wulff, has her name associated with “escort” and “prostitute” in multiple languages in Google autocomplete.
Of course, those suggestions only exist because of the high volume of Google searches. But this new ruling could affect that case, which is still pending.
In April, Google lost a case in Japan over their autocomplete function. A man sued Google over suggestions relating to criminal activity – activity he denied. A Japanese court ruled that Google must alter their results and they also issued a 300,000 yen fine (roughly $3,100).
Google has also faced autocomplete complaints in France.