Irish Hotel The Latest To Sue Google Over Autocomplete Suggestions

from the just-replace-'receivership'-with-'asinine-lawsuit' dept

Another day, another auto suggest lawsuit for Google. There's apparently no shortage of people, places and things being defamed by an innocent algorithm. Last year, the French courts found against Google's proprietary "Suggest" in several cases. In January of 2010, the Centre National Prive de Formation a Distance (CNFDI) was appalled that "Google" would suggest the word "scam" be linked to its initials. This was also the case with Direct Energie, (another) French company, who also felt that "scam" should not be algorithmically appended to searches for its business. Later in the year, the French courts did what they do best: blame Google for its users' actions, finding it guilty of libel for somehow linking the words "rapist," "satanist" and "convicted" to searches pertaining to a certain convicted sex offender.

Then France invited Google to take its suggested (by its users) search terms and stop suggesting them when users searched for music or movies. The courts lost this one, but Google went ahead and kept on censoring, most likely seeing this as the path of least resistance, especially when it came to the famous French Resistance (Post-Internet Edition).

And it's not just France. An Italian man sued Google (and won) because searches for his name came with bonus features like "con man" and "fraud."

Of course, all of this is old news. In fact, people have been suing Google for its suggestions (none of which are its own) since the dawn of time (ca. 2006), when ServrCheck sued the search engine giant for its willingness to tack on "keygen" and "crack" to searches for its software.

With all that history behind it, there should be no surprised noises or raised eyebrows from anyone regarding this latest bit of news. Now it's an Irish hotel's turn to step up to the Complaint Box and file a grievance. This suit brings an all-new term to the "Google Suggest Hall O' Libelous Shame": "receivership." Apparently, people searching for information on the Ballymascanion Hotel are finding "receivership" high up on the Autocomplete list. Now, it's not the people that have an issue with this. After all, the "people" are the ones who put it there. Rather, it's the hotel itself that's upset about being linked to something as tawdry as "receivership," but rather than issue a press release or update its Facebook page or whatever, it's decided to drag Google and its terrible Suggestions into the courtroom.

Now, it's been said before at Techdirt (and several other places) that this isn't Google's doing. The suggestions that show up in the search field are based on what people are actually searching for. But obviously you can't hold everyone liable for unintentionally disparaging your business while trying to ensure their money doesn't end up in the pockets of "con men," "scammers" and "frauds." Google really shouldn't be expected to tweak its algorithm to fit each individual user, much less be forced into laundering someone or something's unsavory reputation by deleting terms the users don't care for. But as long as the courts keep siding with the "victims," "victims" will keep dragging Google into court for something it isn't doing.


Reader Comments (rss)

(Flattened / Threaded)

  1.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Jun 17th, 2011 @ 3:08pm

    Maybe Google needs to find a better business model.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  2.  
    icon
    RadialSkid (profile), Jun 17th, 2011 @ 3:14pm

    It might be easier just to eliminate Autocomplete outright. It's clear that the world isn't ready for it.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  3.  
    identicon
    MrWilson, Jun 17th, 2011 @ 3:17pm

    Re:

    The users of the world are quite ready for it. It's the tech-stupid courts that are causing the problems.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  4.  
    identicon
    MrWilson, Jun 17th, 2011 @ 3:18pm

    Re:

    Yeah, because their current model is unprofitable, consumer-unfriendly, and requires political corruption and asinine laws to prop it up...

    /sarcasm

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  5.  
    identicon
    A Guy, Jun 17th, 2011 @ 3:32pm

    A little context may go a long way in the eyes of the courts and consumers. Maybe include the words "most searched terms by our users" or something of the like in the box. This would change the context from a suggestion from google to a factual statement about search trends. It probably shouldn't be necessary, but it would clear up misconceptions about how these suggestions are generated.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  6.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Jun 17th, 2011 @ 3:40pm

    Re: Re:

    Asinine laws like Safe Harbor, which it goes crying back to every day of the week? Sure.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  7.  
    icon
    PrometheeFeu (profile), Jun 17th, 2011 @ 3:41pm

    Has anyone not enabled instant search yet?

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  8.  
    identicon
    STJ, Jun 17th, 2011 @ 4:01pm

    Google just needs to step up and tell anyone who sues them they can just completely remove them from their database. They they will not have a reason to sue.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  9.  
    icon
    Steven (profile), Jun 17th, 2011 @ 4:10pm

    Re: Re: Re:

    Yes, because not being liable for things you didn't do is truly asinine.

    We all know real justice comes for getting money from the nearest holder of large amounts of cash.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  10.  
    icon
    Cynyr (profile), Jun 17th, 2011 @ 4:16pm

    Re: Re: Re:

    wouldn't want anyone to be able to do anything ever on the net.

    Just think, would you be able to post here without section 230 safe harbors? i think not, too much risk for Mike.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  11.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Jun 17th, 2011 @ 4:25pm

    Re: Re: Re: Re:

    "Yes, because not being liable for things you didn't do is truly asinine."

    It's either the users be held liable or their corporate enablers. Or both.

    I like both. Apparently, so do governments.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  12.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Jun 17th, 2011 @ 4:50pm

    I'm with STJ on this one. Fix this problem by making searches for 'Ballymascanion Hotel' start returning zero results. Other companies will see what's going on and realize that suing Google will cause them more harm than just leaving it alone.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  13.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Jun 17th, 2011 @ 5:13pm

    Re: Re: Re: Re: Re:

    Glad to see you finally admitting that the goal of your employers is anti-internet.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  14.  
    icon
    Simple Mind (profile), Jun 17th, 2011 @ 5:15pm

    Re: Re: Re: Re: Re:

    Or neither.

    No one gives a flying turd what you or moronic european governments like. Get over yourself.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  15.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Jun 17th, 2011 @ 5:34pm

    Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re:

    I am a medical student. Who is my employer?

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  16.  
    identicon
    MrWilson, Jun 17th, 2011 @ 6:17pm

    Re:

    It sounds like a good idea, but it doesn't work for the same reason that the suit from the hotel doesn't make sense. Google isn't one guy posting what he wants. It's a search engine that tells its users what is out there and what other users search for. To block all references to the hotel on Google, you'd have to block results that point to posts that mention the hotel but may not be about the hotel.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  17.  
    icon
    Hephaestus (profile), Jun 17th, 2011 @ 6:25pm

    Google auto complete seems to use words you have typed in your own searches to customize the autocomplete results. So the guy might have have been researching "hotels in receivership" at some point.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  18.  
    icon
    The Groove Tiger (profile), Jun 17th, 2011 @ 9:20pm

    Re: Re:

    Simply stop autocompleting ANYTHING that includes the Hotel's name, and same thing for anyone else who sues. Instead of making the algorithm stop suggesting "scam" when related to "CNFDI", ignore the word "CNFDI" entirely. In fact, don't include it in search results either.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  19.  
    identicon
    abc gum, Jun 18th, 2011 @ 7:54am

    1) Google bomb your name with something bad
    2) Search on your name and be outraged
    3) Sue Google
    4) ?????
    5) Profit

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  20.  
    icon
    btr1701 (profile), Jun 18th, 2011 @ 9:04am

    Why Bother?

    Seems like if I were running a business and something like this Autocomplete thing kept making headaches for me and I was constantly being sued for it, I'd take a hard look at whether offering the service is worth the trouble. If Google's not making any money off it, they should just get rid of it and let people search for what they want to search for, sans guidance.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  21.  
    icon
    Bill (profile), Jun 18th, 2011 @ 9:13am

    Re: Re:

    Not really. Since autocomplete is already set to filter sexual terms, they would just need to add these company's to the same type of list. A search would find them but auto complete would have no record of them at all.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  22.  
    icon
    PaulT (profile), Jun 18th, 2011 @ 12:12pm

    Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re:

    Whoever pays you to be that stupid. This can't be a real opinion you reached with all the facts available to you, surely? If so, I weep for the future of the medical profession and presumably have another reason to be thankful that my medical care isn't provided in the US.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  23.  
    identicon
    Androgynous Cowherd, Jun 18th, 2011 @ 2:01pm

    Isn't truth an absolute defense against accusations of defamation?

    First of all, if the real meaning of a search suggestion is "this is frequently searched by other users" and that claim is true, then that's a truth defense.

    Secondly, in this instance:

    Later in the year, the French courts did what they do best: blame Google for its users' actions, finding it guilty of libel for somehow linking the words "rapist," "satanist" and "convicted" to searches pertaining to a certain convicted sex offender.


    even if the suggestions were interpreted as statements about the convicted sex offender by Google, "convicted" is true and thus not defamatory and likely neither is "rapist", though I don't have enough information to say whether "satanist" is true of that convicted sex offender also.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  24.  
    icon
    taoareyou (profile), Jun 18th, 2011 @ 2:31pm

    Curious

    If a man buys some spray paint and uses it to paint a business' name and the word scam on the wall of another business, who does the company who's name was painted sue?

    Does it sue the company on who's wall the word was painted?

    Does it sue the manufacturer of the paint or perhaps the store where the paint was purchased?

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  25.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Jun 19th, 2011 @ 12:08am

    Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re:

    There are people who legitimately dont believe or understand that the actor shoulders the burden and not the tool. Think youve got it nailed completely yourself? What would you think of someone selling nuclear plans to terrorists? Or ATF agents knowingly letting guns get in the hands of mexican drug lords? If you're not willing to go all the way, then dont be so quick to diss others who arent.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  26.  
    identicon
    abc gum, Jun 19th, 2011 @ 8:08am

    Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re:

    Today I learned that Google auto complete is like nuclear terrorism and heavily armed Mexican drug lords. See - this is why I read TechDirt, to keep up on all the things I otherwise would not know.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  27.  
    identicon
    abc gum, Jun 19th, 2011 @ 8:11am

    Re:

    They would probably get sued for that also.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  28.  
    icon
    Niall (profile), Jun 20th, 2011 @ 5:36am

    Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re:

    What, like no-one in the US paid any attention to the French government's principled stand against the illegal war in Iraq, the one that turned out to have been fought under extremely false pretences, with absolutely no fore-thought or planning? The US government that is currently desperate to get people to sign up to their backers' favourite pet project, ACTA? :)

    Good to see the quality of troll arguments is still as low as ever.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  29.  
    icon
    lrobbo (profile), Jun 8th, 2012 @ 2:54pm

    Autocomplete should be scrapped primarily because it's just a pain . . .

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]


Add Your Comment

Have a Techdirt Account? Sign in now. Want one? Register here
Get Techdirt’s Daily Email
Save me a cookie
  • Note: A CRLF will be replaced by a break tag (<br>), all other allowable HTML will remain intact
  • Allowed HTML Tags: <b> <i> <a> <em> <br> <strong> <blockquote> <hr> <tt>
Follow Techdirt
A word from our sponsors...
Essential Reading
Techdirt Reading List
Techdirt Insider Chat
A word from our sponsors...
Recent Stories
A word from our sponsors...

Close

Email This