Google ordered to censor Autocomplete results

Posted by Emma Woollacott

Google's Autocomplete function is continuing to get it into trouble, with a Japanese man becoming the latest to sue over the suggestions it throws out for his name.

Following a lawsuit, a Tokyo court has ordered the company to disable certain terms, on the grounds that it was linking the man's name with a series of crimes. As a result, said his lawyer, he's lost his job, and been rejected for others he's applied for.

"It could lead to irretrievable damage, such as job loss or bankruptcy, just by displaying search results that constitute defamation or violation of the privacy of an individual person or small and medium-size companies," the man's lawyer told the Japan Times.

Google's pointed out that Autocomplete results are generated on the basis of previous searches. If enough people search on 'Emma Woollacott mass murder' (please don't) it'll start offering that as a search suggestion in future. Thus, it's committing no libel itself, it says.

According to the Japan Times, Google says its own privacy policy doesn't justify deleting the suggested terms. In any case, it says, the actions of its US headquarters aren't subject to Japanese law. It's 'reviewing' the order, it says.

The case is almost identical to a similar one in Italy a year ago, when a man complained that Autocomplete was linking his name to the terms 'truffatore' (con man) and 'truffa' (fraud). Google was ordered to remove the suggested terms then, too.

Currently, Google says it censors Autocomplete results only when they include pornography, violence, swearing or copyright violation.