Japanese Court Misunderstands Autocomplete, Orders Google To Turn It Off To Protect 'Privacy'

from the can't-judges-talk-to-techies? dept

Over the past few years, we’ve seen a number of lawsuits around the globe concerning Google’s “autocomplete” feature, which takes common searches based on what you’ve already typed and suggests those as potential full searches. The feature can be pretty useful (and also amusing at times). In the US, the entertainment industry has freaked out about it, leading to Google’s bizarrely hamfisted censorship of the results.

But that’s not good enough for some. We’ve covered cases in France and Italy where Google was found liable for “suggestions” that a user didn’t like (usually associating whoever was complaining with something bad). Of course, that totally misunderstands the feature and suggests that it’s actually Google directly saying this is the best suggestion (in fact, I wonder if this is why Google stopped calling this “Google Suggest” and moved to simply calling it “autocomplete”).

The latest, as pointed out by TNW, is that a court in Japan has actually ordered Google to turn off the feature entirely, claiming that it’s a violation of privacy. Privacy? Huh? Basically, it sounds like a guy complained that searches on his name popped up suggestions with all sorts of bad things (the article says “criminal acts”), and the guy thinks his getting fired and difficulty finding another job was due to this. Of course, it’s difficult to see how that’s a privacy issue at all, or how it’s Google’s fault. Google claims that as a US company it has no obligation to obey the injunction.

The thing is, the guy remains unnamed. If he actually named himself, he might solve the problem by promoting more stories about how he’s not actually associated with these crimes, and those would likely rise to the top. In the meantime, what does it take for a judge to ask someone who actually understands technology for some pointers before making a ruling that shows a basic ignorance of what the tech does?

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Companies: google

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Comments on “Japanese Court Misunderstands Autocomplete, Orders Google To Turn It Off To Protect 'Privacy'”

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Jay (profile) says:

Correlation and causation...

Just a few things to understand about Japan in general:

1) Japan has seen a decline in wages for the past 20 years now in all markets:

Average Japanese incomes have taken a huge hit over the last 13 years…. salaried employees? incomes dropped since their peak in 1997. The most significant declines came after 2008?s so-called ?Lehman shock,? and even with the slight uptick in 2010 and expected for 2011, wages are still not back to 2008 levels. As Shukan Bunshun calculated, the end result is a loss of ?220 trillion in lost or declining salaries in the last 12 years (Japan Times). Not all Japanese employees are salaried, of course, but these measures best demonstrate the state of Japan?s middle and upper-middle classes.

So of course the guy is losing his job and having difficulty in finding a new one. The entire country is suffering from too much law in the first place.

2) The judicial system of Japan is very different from the common law of the US. With a three judge system, I highly doubt that they’ll understand technology issues any time soon. For the most part, these judges are former prosecutors used to convicting people. I highly doubt that they’d understand technology issues on a grand scale.

3) Names in Japanese can be quite similar with only the kanji differentiating the name. If I right Akira, 明、or 亮, (same Akira, two different kanjis) I change the meaning of the name. So maybe a few kanjis are too close together and magically his name is involved. But I really can’t see how this guy is singled out for being a criminal when someone may have a similar name to a him. It does happen in the Orient. It may have been that he was just victim of the recession and he’s not able to get a new job so he’s finding a scapegoat.

And what better scapegoat than a technology giant when you’re down on your luck?

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Correlation and causation...

You don’t think that maybe since stories have been circulating that companies are going so far as to ask for applicants Facebook logins, that maybe he might have a point?

If employers are looking at FB profiles (which are also subject to confusion) then they might also be running Google searches on applicants.

Anonymous Coward says:

Of course, that totally misunderstands the feature and suggests that it’s actually Google directly saying this is the best suggestion (in fact, I wonder if this is why Google stopped calling this “Google Suggest” and moved to simply calling it “autocomplete”).

This might be the dumbest sentence on the internet today. Google themselves called it a “suggestion”, but it’s, like, totally not a suggestion. That makes sense?

Of course it’s not Google’s “suggestion”! It’s only their site, their index, their results, their search field, and their *suggestions*.

You guys get it, right? Google is PERFECT!

Jeffrey Nonken (profile) says:

Hmm. I typed in my own name and found something interesting: it didn’t autocomplete anything about me being a criminal, a twit, or, well, anything.

So I clicked Search and found:
1. My resume page (same one I link to here)
2. My Linkedin page
3. My “My Favorite Techdirt Posts of the Week” post
4. Images (mostly on FB or G+, and mostly other people)
5. My Techdirt profile (apparently I signed up once using an old nick)
6. My Techdirt profile (this one) (is there a way to combine them?)
7. Three people named Jeffrey Nonken at whitepages.com (all are me, at different locations)
8. One person named Jeffrey Nonken in Pennsylvania at three different locations (including Sacramento, Ca) (still all me)
9. My TheRegister profile

…and so on.

I don’t know what my point is, I’m babbling.

Jay (profile) says:

Re: Re:

I’ll dispute that. Last I checked, 18 people were arrested for file sharing. The justice system is atrocious, but I haven’t seen anything recently in regards to more prosecutions. If you’re talking about the Tokyo law that makes SOPA look like a great piece of legislation, then I say that using that won’t solve Japan’s problems. But that is all I have heard about recently.

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