Out-Law / Your Daily Need-To-Know

Google ordered to remove suggested search terms that link Japanese man to criminal activity

Out-Law News | 28 Mar 2012 | 11:16 am | 1 min. read

A Japanese court has ordered Google to stop its search engine technology from suggesting "specific terms" that have linked a man's name to crimes he did not commit.

The unnamed man sued Google after claiming that the terms the company's 'autocomplete' software suggests in association with his name caused him to lose his job and has subsequently put off potential new employers, according to a report by Kyodo news agency on the Japan Times website.

Autocomplete suggests words or characters for completing a partial search on Google.

The man's lawyer, Hiroyuki Tomita, said Tokyo District Court had "approved a petition" that requires Google to stop the terms appearing, according to the report.

The internet giant has said that it is "reviewing the order", according to a report by the BBC.

"A Japanese court issued a provisional order requesting Google to delete specific terms from autocomplete," Google said, according to the BBC. "The judge did not require Google to completely suspend the autocomplete function."

The man had asked Google to remove the terms before applying for the court order, Tomita said. However, the company said that because the terms were selected "mechanically" and not deliberately by it, it had not violated the man's privacy, the lawyer said, according to a report by The Mainichi Daily News.

Autocomplete suggestions can " lead to irretrievable damage such as a loss of job or bankruptcy just by showing search results that constitute defamation or a violation of the privacy of an individual person or small and medium-sized companies,'' Tomita said, according to the report.

Google said its autocomplete system was not manually manipulated, the BBC's report said.

"These searches are produced by a number of factors including the popularity of search terms," the internet giant said. "Google does not determine these terms manually - all of the queries shown in autocomplete have been typed previously by other Google users."

In January it was reported that a French court had fined Google $65,000 after its search engine suggested the French word for 'crook' when users typed-in the name of an insurance company.

Google had unsuccessfully argued that it was not liable for the word association because it had been generated by an automatic algorithm and not by human thought.

Under the EU's E-Commerce Directive online service providers are exempt from liability for content they provide access to but which was not created by them.

However this protection only exists if the provider removes the illegal content quickly when notified of its existence. The French court ruled that it had not.

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