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Japan The Latest Country To Mistakenly Say Google Is 'Responsible' For Autocomplete Results

from the that's-not-how-it-works dept

Following on similar results in France and Italy, a court in Japan has ridiculously ordered Google to change its autocomplete results after a guy there got upset that when people searched for his name, one of the autocomplete results involved his name and a criminal act which he did not commit. As we’ve explained over and over again, autocomplete is not someone at Google suggesting this is what the guy did, but rather an algorithmic look at what other people are searching for. Censoring that is silly. It’s censoring factual information. It is true that the search on those terms leads to an apparently faked document which slandered the guy, but you’d think that any legal action would be targeted at whoever made that site, not at Google.

And, yet, the court has said that Google must block the truthful display of what people have searched for.

“A situation has been created by which illegally submitted documents can be easily viewed,” chief judge Hisaki Kobayashi was quoted as saying by the Mainichi Shimbun newspaper.

It seems bizarre that the response to this is to go after Google instead of whoever created and uploaded the false document. Get rid of that document, by the person who allegedly really slandered the guy, and you likely solve the overall problem, without trying to interfere with Google’s algorithms.

As the article notes, an injunction had been issued earlier in the case, which Google ignored. Also, Google doesn’t even run a data center in Japan, so it’s unclear how much jurisdiction the Japanese court even has over forcing Google to change its system.

Either way, it’s getting fairly ridiculous to see so many courts blame Google for the fact that it can find stuff that other people did.

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Comments on “Japan The Latest Country To Mistakenly Say Google Is 'Responsible' For Autocomplete Results”

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82 Comments
Anonymous Coward says:

and on appeal

Hopefully, when Google appeals, the judges will use a Google-style process:

“We have fully reviewed your case and can confirm that your appeal has been denied. There will be no further appeal.

To protect our algorithms, we cannot give you details of our determination”

Justice Google can understand – quick, efficient and completely lacking justice.

AzureSky (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

but your asking people to actually learn to use the tools they choose, rather then just complain about them…

i mean i learned long ago how to disable the filtering on google that kept me from getting the results i wanted at times, it takes what 5 clicks or less to enable/disable stuff like filtering and auto complete?

again though, your asking people to learn to use the tools they choose……how could you…..they want whats perfect for them, and whats perfect for them should be perfect for everybody….

Anonymous Coward says:

Dis is da fault of gooooooogle.

If dey don’t know how to fix da business den dey should not do it cuz it’s bad.

How would they like it if wen dey right in “google is” da results come back wit “evil” or “making us stupid?”

Dey would cry like baby cry babies.

And, mikey, u say dat neva mind cuz google no do um jus won algorithim. Den fire da algorithim, stupid. He prolly get to much $$$ as it is.

Don’t pick on da Japanese cuz dey get enough problems like:

1) dey gotta print as much money as dey get right now by da end of nex year

2) dey be scrapin wit da china ova da island an gonna send dea forces to practice recapturing one island in California pretty soon

3) dey all stay irradiated

4) no more oil

5) da china people not gonna buy dea cars no mo

so, jus giv’um time and dey goin crack up anywayz

Anonymous Coward says:

With bated breath and a large box of popcorn I wait for automatic self driving cars and the legal commodity acts that to follow.

The car ran me off the road. Who is at fault? The car? The owner of the car? The manufacturer of the car? There are endless possibilities.

The Libyans solved this problem a long time ago. They put the car in jail. And, if you think the car did any more craze things then you have not spent a month walking in the desert in the summer.

Maybe that is what the judge should do put the search engine in jail for a month. No use by anyone and see if the search engine generates any more libelous results.

tomxp411 (profile) says:

Re: So Google isn't responsible

You are apparently as ignorant as the Japanese court.

The whole point behind autocomplete is when a bunch of people search for “horse with no name is a dufus”, that phrase springs to the top of the drop-down list when other people type in “horse”

Google doesn’t know or care what the specific search terms are, and writing in some sort of lexical parser to filter out specific situations like this is just ludicrous.

So the only recourse Google has is to simply turn off the autocomplete feature altogether, which is sad for the people who actually DO use it.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: So Google isn't responsible

By your logic if I rig a shotgun to point at a door and shoot if the door is open and then someone not knowing about the shotgun then opens the door and dies I did not commit murder.

US courts have ruled otherwise even though some people have found this to be a most effective method of killing people.

PaulT (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: So Google isn't responsible

What a ridiculous analogy, and one that totally misses the point as well as what tom said above.

In your silly tale I assume you want Google to be the person who loaded and positioned the shotgun. But they’re not. Google are simply the manufacturers of the shotgun. It’s working exactly as its intended to, and works the same way whether or not it’s positioned as you describe and whether or not live ammo is used. They cannot be blamed just because someone doesn’t like the result or because it was used maliciously without their involvement.

btr1701 (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: So Google isn't responsible

By your logic if I rig a shotgun to point
at a door and shoot if the door is open and
then someone not knowing about the shotgun
then opens the door and dies I did not commit
murder.

That’s not any kind of logic at all. Analogies aren’t you’re strong point, are they?

All Google is doing is letting the user see what other people are searching for. That’s factual and true information, and cannot be the basis of a defamation award (at least in the U.S.).

This is just another example of people bizarrely believing that something that would be perfectly legal off the internet suddenly becomes actionable because computers! online! are involved.

That One Guy (profile) says:

Re: So Google isn't responsible

For about the same reason car and gun manufacturers aren’t held responsible when their products are used for illegal or otherwise objectionable actions?

Just like car and gun manufacturers create their products, sell them and thereafter have no real control over them, google programed in an algorithm that takes into account what people are searching for most, and uses that for the autocomplete results, with no further interference from them.

As-is, with the hands-off approach they take regarding it, no one but the other users are responsible for what shows up, as it’s their actions/searches that cause the various ‘suggestions’ to pop up. However if google did start intentionally modifying what autocomplete shows, then they would be able to be held personally responsible for the results, as that would mean that they were, at least in part, choosing what did and did not show up as an autocomplete result.

PaulT (profile) says:

Re: So Google isn't responsible

“I am trying to imagine how Google cannot be responsible for it’s own software and the results it produces.”

Do you try to imagine a lot of things that people aren’t saying?

The point is that the software works PERFECTLY – it correctly shows what other people are searching for when you type in a term. The problem is that Google are being blamed as if they generated those search terms. They didn’t. They’re showing the correct results, whether people actually like the truth or not.

Unfortunately, some people are too clueless to work out where the problem lies – or at least just want to blame the biggest target rather than the actual culprit.

PaulT (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: So Google isn't responsible

They’re the second option in your user settings, you lazy git. Why would you need someone to tell you to change settings in the settings box? Do you also complain that Microsoft doesn’t tell you how to change settings when Windows does something you don’t like?

You could also use something to search for how to turn them off – say, Google – or use a different search engine that doesn’t do things in ways you’re too dumb to change.

Stop being a lazy ass and pick one.

PaulT (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: So Google isn't responsible

Ah apologies, I thought you were the dumbass talking about turning off autocomplete in the search engine, now I see you’re the moron who just doesn’t understand how algorithms work.

So, why do Google need to explain everything they do before they do it? Do you also expect them to list how their search algorithm and pageranks work before their search reuslts come up as well, or is this just a stupid way of trying to deflect blame back onto Google even though they’re doing nothing wrong.

The fault lies with the idiots who don’t like truthful results, not the people providing the algorithm.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:2 So Google isn't responsible

Like most teck idiots you completely fail to divorce what is possible by software or physically and what is acceptable legally and morally.

Just because one has a hammer and crowbar that does not automatically make one a burgler nor does it make one a carpenter.

The software works as designed.

Is Google responsible for the design of its software or not?

PaulT (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:3 So Google isn't responsible

So, you can’t understand logic so you have to resort to (misspelled) insults? OK, let’s see if we can put this through your thick little skull.

There is no moral issue. Google’s algorithm works exactly the same no matter what the input is. If someone decided to use a blender to prepare a soup made from poisonous mushrooms instead of a nice healthy soup, the manufacturer of the blender is not responsible for the output being poisonous. The issue is with the content being input, which are not their responsibility or creation.

Clear?

“Is Google responsible for the design of its software or not?”

Yes. It’s design is to take input from user searches and return the most likely matches based on the word you’re typing. It’s not Google’s fault that one of these results offended your cowardly tiny little mind because users were inserting those terms. The algorithm worked exactly the same way, and Google didn’t change the result to offend you.

Clear?

btr1701 (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: So Google isn't responsible

Good. Now show me where on the Google search
page that they explain this, preferable before
the results come up.

Nowhere. They don’t explain that the sun rises in the east, either, or that water is wet.

Some things are presumed not to need explanation for anyone who is a rational breathing adult human.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: So Google isn't responsible

So I imagine you’re rooting for Viacom in the Youtube suit then? After all, by your logic, Google should be responsible for the results returned by the algorithms that handle autocomplete/video serving based on input provided by users, and should be liable if those results are found to defame someone/infringe someone’s copyright.

Right?

tomxp411 (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Just turn it off

Nope. That’s something else.

Autocomplete is when the text box you’re entering text in to automatically fills in words for you.

Instant is when Google automatically starts bringing back search results before you’re done typing them. The two work together (Instant returns results based on autocomplete), but they’re two different things.

I have turned off Instant (because it basically doesn’t work anyway), but I still get automatic completion in the search box.

PaulT (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:3 Just turn it off

Hmmm…. My apologies, the last time I tried the settings it did turn off both but it appears that you’re correct – instant is disabled but autocomplete remains.

A Google search suggests that there’s no longer a specific option to turn of the autocomplete itself. The workaround is to use the following URL to search: https://www.google.com/webhp?complete=0. Bookmark that instead of google.com and autocomplete is disabled. I tested and it works for me. I would be nice if they supplied the option to turn off in settings again, but this is a painless way to get the same results.

But, seriously, this is information I found within a minute by using the very tool you’re complaining about. That’s less work than you put into complaining in the first place.

tomxp411 (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:4 Just turn it off

But, seriously, this is information I found within a minute by using the very tool you’re complaining about. That’s less work than you put into complaining in the first place.

I know there are various hacks to turn it off. That was never the point.

The point is that it’s a buggy, unreliable feature that Google does not have a clear way to disable.

I guess I’m turning in to an old grouch: I appreciate the little UI tricks that Google is adding to the search page, but those also destroy the simple elegance of what Google is.

It’s kind of like lowering, chopping, and adding ground effects to a 1955 Chevy… there are certain things that were better before they were “fixed.”

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:5 Re:

Because it opens the door to anybody manipulating search results by demanding that alter its suggestions to suite the requesters view of the world. In particular this would allow government to remove words and phrases that they do not like from auto-complete. this would allow the US government to remove America from suggestions starting with ‘political corruption’.

John Fenderson (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:5 Re:

You are advocating pure censorship. Google is presenting factual information that it didn’t even generate: what users are searching for. You are advocating that they specifically censor that factual information just because it hurts some people’s feelings.

If you’re going to advocate censorship, you should have some really solid reason to do so. Some major harm or something. At least something more than being insulted.

PaulT (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

The party providing the algorithm is providing the correct output from the data they receive. Either you’re calling for the algorithm to be broken so that it returns incorrect data (stupid), or you’re asking Google to manually police the output of said algorithm so that some poor waif doesn’t get their little feelings hurt (stupid, and expensive).

You’re literally asking why Google doesn’t break it’s perfectly working system because someone doesn’t like the results. Do you also attack Sony because you saw something on a TV channel you didn’t like, since Sony’s device was the one that displayed it?

PaulT (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:3 Re:

If you think an autocomplete algorithm is capable of defaming someone, you’re either a moron or really don’t understand how it works. It’s not saying anything, only returning data. Whether the autocomplete uses search results or the search terms being used, it’s simply returning what is being said by others.

Shooting the messenger is idiotic, and it does nothing to stop defamation – since the “defamation” was happening before any algorithm caught it, and will almost certainly be visible afterwards. Hiding the result from Google’s algorithms does nothing to stop what’s being said, and such ridiculous, ineffective censorship isn’t really something they should be getting involved in.

Suing over that is like suing the owner of a building because you can see some offensive graffiti on their wall, and forcing them to hire people with paintbrushes in case someone does it again. Why not sue the graffiti artists?

Also, isn’t intent a factor in defamation? How can an algorithm have intent?

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

You can have freedom, which includes occasional annoyances, and lots of people saying things you don’t like, or you can have some form ot totalitarian regime, where force is used against you if yoy disagree with the regime. The latter is usually much worse unless you are part of a ruling elite.

Ninja (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

Yeah, because road operators are responsible for any stance of transportation of illegal stuff in their roads. Because the gun manufacturer is responsible for ppl using their guns to kill others. Because car dealers are responsible for ppl speeding with the cars they sold.

Thanks for playing now go back to the dumb land, will you?

JMT says:

Re: Re:

“If google isn’t responsible, who is?”

Alright, lets run with your assertion that Google is responsible. So what? Why should providing accurate, factual results that show the most common searches associated with particular terms be a punishable offense? What exactly are you you complaining about?

“This is laughably poor apologism.”

Well nobody here is apologising for Google because they haven’t done anything wrong, so I guess you’re right about that.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:

You haven’t won a thing. There’s a difference between selling a car to someone who later uses it to do something illegal without the seller having any knowledge of the illegal activity and Google’s autocomplete function which can defame persons over which Google has complete control and about which Google can be put on notice. You guys seem incapable of understanding the nuances of these things–Mike especially.

Some Other AC (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

OK, fucktard, since you obviously fail at any level of basic logic and mathematical comprehension, I will try to ‘splain it to you one more time.
The algorithm that Google is using is a tool. In and of itself it is a piece of code used to take input from users in a given region(google.com, google.cn, etc…) who are searching for subjects and then present this information back to other users who start a search that matches previous searches.
It is not Google’s responsibility to nanny the users of the world and their search topics. They are simply aggregating them and presenting this information back to other users who search for similar topics.
If you put flour, milk, sugar, yeast, etc…into a blender you get dough. You cannot change this output unless you change the input(i.e. the ingredients). Output is dependent on the input. It is really simple. Hell, I have met 3yr old children who understand this concept better than you do.

John Fenderson (profile) says:

Re: Re:

Really, there’s only four possible explanations:

1) His name really is quite unique
2) The search results result from that query referred unambiguously to him (in which case, why not go after those pages instead of Google?)
3) The “statement” he claims is defamatory is, in fact, true and he recognizes it (in which case, it’s not defamatory in the US.)
4) His egotism knows no bounds

John85851 (profile) says:

How did this get into the court system?

How did this get into the court system in the first place? Why didn’t the lawyer tell his client that Google was merely displaying results of other people’s searches? Why didn’t a court refuse to hear it on the grounds that:
1) Google is only programmed to return results from other websites and
2) Like the article said, Google doesn’t have data centers in Japan, so the Japanese court has no jurisdiction.

But, as usual, it’s easier to blame and sue the delivery system instead of the content creator. Plus, it’s far easier (though completely wrong) to sue a company with big pockets like Google than to find the guy who posted the original slanderous documents and tell him to remove them.

This case sounds like the myriad of cases where people try to sue their local TV station over content in a network TV show they don’t like. Again, it’s easier to sue the local TV station than the producers and directors of the TV show.

AzureSky (profile) says:

a simple fix

disable auto complete by default, this would be kind anoying for those of us who use it constantly BUT the up side for google, since most of these people are either to stupid or to lazy to learn to use the tools they choose the problem would just go away.

i mean honestly, with the number of people i have seen say they use noscript to block auto complete, rather then just disabling it on google….

honestly, google should just disable it by default, then make you click threw a few warning windows when you want to enable it for your account, the windows could explain how it works and require you to click “i understand” even if you dont read it…..

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