Google Autocomplete unfairly links businessman to Scientology
Occurred: May 2013
Google has lost a high-profile lawsuit in Germany that had seen a businessman accuse the technology company of unfairly tarnishing his reputation by allowing its Autopilot 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 Autopilot.
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.
Purpose: Predict search results
Technology: NLP/text analysis
Issue: Accuracy/reliability; Mis/disinformation; Privacy; Legal - defamation/libel
Transparency: Governance; Black box; Legal
Cologne Higher Regional Court (2014). Verdict [15 U 199/11]
Federal Court of Justice (2013). Verdict [VI ZR 269/12]
Wikipedia. Judgement of the German Federal Court of Justice on Google's autocomplete function
Cheung A. (2015). Defaming by Suggestion: Searching for Search Engine Liability in the Autocomplete Era
News, commentary, analysis
Published: March 2023