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Google In Hot Water After Auto-Complete Defames Tokyo Man

Typing the beginning of a fairly innocuous question or phrase into the Google search bar, just to see what auto-complete suggests can be pretty amusing.

For example, the first suggestion when you type “Do all men ” is “Do all men cheat,” followed rather troublingly by “Do all men carry HPV.” (Ugh.)

Enter Glorious Leader Joe Brown’s name and Google will suggest via auto-complete: “Joe Brown clothing,” “Joe Brown smokehouse,” “Joe Brown gizmodo,” and “Joe Brown judge.” Not bad!

Unfortunately for one Tokyo man, Google auto-completes his name (which is undisclosed for The Register calls “obvious reasons”) with “words and phrases related to criminal acts, which link through to articles defaming him.” The man believes that the offending auto-completions are to blame for a job he lost several years ago, as well as for the difficulty he’s had in securing employment ever since.

A Tokyo District Court has already sided with the man, ruling that Google must remove the offending characters from the results when his name is entered as a search term and that they pay him compensatory damages for the embarrassment this algorithm flub has caused.

Google offers in its defence little more than “that such cases are few and far between, not the result of any human intervention and that data is updated frequently to stay current”. Though, it seems worth exploring the possibility that another individual by the same name might in fact have legitimate reasons for those offending terms to be associated with this name. It is unclear whether this had already been ruled out. [The Register]


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