Google Autocomplete unfairly links Gebusinessman to Scientology

Occurred: May 2013

Google lost a high-profile lawsuit in Germany that had seen a businessman accuse the technology company of unfairly tarnishing his reputation by allowing its Autocomplete search prediction function to link him to 'fraud' and 'Scientology'.

Germany's Federal Court of Justice ruled that Google had violated the rights and reputation of businessman 'RS' on the basis that he could not be found to be related in any way to Scientology or fraud, and that the violation was directly attributable to Google as it designed, developed, and operated Autocomplete.

The ruling, which had been overturned twice by lower German courts, required Google to stop using the two terms as suggestions in its Autocomplete results, and to change the way its Autocomplete works in Germany so that it better protects users against similar violations of their rights.

Google called the ruling 'incomprehensible'. A year later, the European Court of Justice ruled that EU data protection law gave individuals the right to ask search engines to delist results for queries related to their name should they be 'inaccurate, inadequate, irrelevant or excessive', or whether there is a public interest in the information remaining available in search results.

Operator: Alphabet/Google
Developer: Alphabet/Google

Country: Germany

Sector: Health

Purpose: Predict search results

Technology: NLP/text analysis; Deep learning; Machine learning
Issue: Accuracy/reliability; Mis/disinformation; Privacy; Legal - defamation/libel

Transparency: Governance; Black box; Legal

Legal, regulatory 👩🏼‍⚖️