Google’s auto-complete feature — also known as Google Instant — is both handy and amusing, as it not only lets you find those tricky search phrases and ensure your spelling is correct, but also marvel at the baffling things your fellow humans have searched for in the past.
However, one Japanese man hasn’t found it amusing at all, as when he searches for his own name, it returns suggestions linking him with crimes he claims he hasn’t committed. It’s not just a couple of pages either, as he says by choosing one of the options returns at least 10,000 individual results.
Having been turned down by Google after requesting the terms be removed, the man, who has not been named, sought an injunction against the search giant through the Japanese courts.
This isn’t all about vanity either, as his lawyer claims the man lost his job and been turned down for others due to the search results, presumably after potential employers performed the almost de rigueur Google check before extending an offer.
After the case was adjudicated on 19 March, it has now been announced that the Tokyo court has approved the injunction and ruled that Google must suspend its auto-complete results.
Google has refused to comply with the order, and according to the Japan Times, has said it “will not be regulated by Japanese law” and that “the case does not warrant deleting the auto-complete suggestions.” Further legal action has been threatened.
Legal battles and controversy
More recently, a similar case in France saw Google remove the words “rapist” and “satanist” from searches involving a man’s name. Oddly, the man was convicted of corrupting a minor, so why it’s fighting against protecting the privacy of an innocent man in Japan is anyone’s guess.
Google creates its list of suggested results by using data from other searches, both long-term and current, along with geographical location and language. To weed out any offensive or indecent search phrases, Google Instant relies on a set of strict filters.
Despite repeated problems, there’s still no clear way to complain to Google about Instant results, as Google’s own Help page merely directs users with questions to the busy Google Search Forum rather than a dedicated page.
Google isn’t the only one to offer search suggestions though, as Bing, Yahoo and even DuckDuckGo all provide similar services. So one wonders whether the unfortunate Japanese man’s ordeal has only just begun.