A Japanese court has ordered Google to change part of its autocomplete search function after a Tokyo man claimed it ruined his life.

A Japanese court has ordered Google to change part of its autocomplete search function after a Tokyo man claimed it ruined his life.

The man at the centre of the case hasn’t come out publicly, but his lawyer said a search for the man’s name links him to crimes he didn’t commit, ruining his reputation forever. The man believes Google autocomplete is the reason why he got fired from his job and the reason why he’s failed at getting a new one.

Not surprisingly, Google hasn’t done anything about it, stating that their company is situated in the United States and doesn’t have to oblige Japanese law. And anyway, matches are made mechanically and not intentionally, and therefore do not violate his privacy.

Autocomplete suggestions are a direct reflection of what users are actually searching for, but Google does have the ability to censor certain terms. They have automatic removal policies for truly offensive suggestions such as porn, piracy, violence and hate speech. In general, though, Google tries to be as neutral as possible, so it’s inevitable that some results will be good and some will be objectionable. If you question that, take a look at some of Google’s own autocomplete suggestions. Not pretty.

But just because Google pleads geography and automation doesn’t mean you can’t win. Last year, Google actually lost a lawsuit in which an Italian businessman sued for libel because a search for his name suggested ‘conman’ and ‘fraud.’ The court ordered Google to remove the terms and the search giant complied.

Last year in Ireland, however, it was a different story. The Ballymascanlon House Hotel, Golf and Leisure Club in Ireland sued Google last year when potential guests (including brides planning their weddings) booked elsewhere when they saw the word “receivership” pop up during Google searches for the hotel’s name. The suit since has been settled, but the hotel’s nightmare isn’t over.

A word to the wise: If you’re going to sue Google for something search related, remain anonymous. Although news reports say Google removed the offending word from the hotel’s autocomplete suggestions, it’s back on the list. Why? Because all of the people writing about the lawsuit (myself included) use the hotel’s full name. Thanks to all of our articles and blogs, we’ve firmly secured the hotel’s autocomplete fate.

 

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