Was A French Court Correct In Blaming Google For Its Google Suggest Suggestions?
from the still-not-convinced dept
We recently wrote about yet another (the third one we know of) ruling in France that found Google liable for what “Google Suggest” suggested. Google Suggest, of course, is the autocomplete function that tries to guess what you’re searching on, based on what other people searched on after typing the same letters. Of course, more recently, that’s been expanded to Google’s Instant Search, where it actually shows full results as you type. We suggested that the problem here was that French courts did not understand the technology.
Journalist Mitch Wagner, who I tend to agree with more often than not, claims that we got it wrong, and that the French courts do understand the technology perfectly fine: and they still decided to side against Google (and, separately, we should mention against Google’s CEO, as if he had anything to do with the suggestions in question):
But actually the French court understands what’s going on. Google raised just those issues in its defense, and the court disagreed. “The court ruling took issue with that line of argument, stating that ‘algorithms or software begin in the human mind before they are implemented,’ and noting that Google presented no actual evidence that its search suggestions were generated solely from previous related searches, without human intervention,” according to Computerworld.
He goes on to suggest that it can (sort of) be compared to a product liability case, where if you make a product that does something “bad” (such as suggest libelous search results) that it should be your responsibility:
Is it appropriate for Google to build a search engine that automatically generates results with no intervention to be sure those results aren’t libelous, defamatory, or otherwise harmful?
This is a problem that goes beyond people accused of crimes. Many companies are unhappy with the results that comes up when you search on industry terms. If you make hats, and you’re not in the first page of results that come up when searching the word “hats,” then you’re dissatisfied with Google. Does that make Google wrong? Does it matter if your hats are, in fact, better and more popular than companies with search terms ranked higher?
I’m sorry, but I don’t buy it. I understand Wagner’s point, but I think the French courts still don’t really understand the issues. It’s not a question of whether or not it’s appropriate, it’s a question of whether or not it’s even possible. How does Google build a search engine that simply knows whether a suggestion might be considered by a court of law to be libelous? As for the different rankings, those are opinions, which should be protected speech (last we checked). If Google’s results aren’t good, that’s an opening for another search engine. Blaming Google because you don’t like how the algorithm works is still a mistake, and I don’t think the French courts really recognize this at all, no matter what they say.