Another Lawsuit Filed For Google Autocomplete 'Defamation'

from the suing-algorithms-for-fun-and-profit! dept

Another day, another lawsuit filed against Google for defamation-via-search-results. And, yet again, it's being filed in a country that has proven amenable towards plaintiffs who somehow feel a search algorithm has the power to defame.

This time the plaintiff is Guy Hingston, an Australian cancer surgeon. His complaint revolves around the fact that Google's autocomplete suggests he's all out of money.
Guy Hingston, an Australian cancer surgeon, sued Google in Federal Court.

"When an individual computer user types 'Guy Hin ...', into the Google search engine as a search, the words 'Guy Hingston Bankrupt' appears," the complaint states. "When the link(s) is clicked on, the article(s) to which the user is directed has absolutely nothing to do with a bankruptcy associated with Dr. Hingston. Dr. Hingston is not bankrupt." (Parentheses and grammar as in complaint).

"Dr. Hingston is a surgeon practicing in Port Macquarie, New South Wales, Australia," the complaint states. "Dr. Hingston's surgical practice focuses on breast cancer. Given his professional practice and position in his community, maintaining his good reputation is critical. Dr. Hingston has lost a number of patients and financiers who are refusing to associate and/or deal with Dr. Hingston as a consequence of the reference on Google to a bankruptcy."
While this may be true, it seems odd that potential patients and financiers wouldn't actually follow through with the search term, which lists one link related to bankruptcy. (At this point there's more, thanks to Hingston filing this suit -- something those filing these types of suits fail to consider.) Clicking through on that link brings up details on a bankruptcy filing by Eclipse Aviation. A commenter has reposted a Port MacQuarie news story that links Dr. Guy Hingston to bankruptcy -- via CoastJet Group, seven companies Hingston "principally controlled" that ceased operation when Eclipse Aviation went under.
Port Macquarie surgeon Guy Hingston bought the 19-year-old business 2½ years ago.

Dr Hingston said the main reason for CoastJet’s demise was the loss of a $2.8 million deposit on two new jets when American company Eclipse Aviation Corporation went into bankruptcy. The business was made more vulnerable, he said, by its heavy investment in a new partnership with Sweden’s Lund University School of Aviation.

He said CoastJet was preparing for its first intake of 24 students from Sweden at the end of March.

Dr Hingston said he and CoastJet’s staff were devastated. “We had two jets we were about to take delivery of, but with the manufacturer going bankrupt, we’ve lost everything,” he said.

The jets were destined to for CoastJet’s growing air ambulance service, Dr Hingston said, as well as for international airline pilot training and charters.
A later story appears at the same site, detailing the eventual sale of CoastJet to a Chinese investor, which again mentions bankruptcy and liquidation. Both of these stories make Hingston's claim that "Guy Hingston bankrupt" link leads to article(s) that "have absolutely nothing to do with a bankruptcy associated with Dr. Hingston" completely false. He may not like the perception the words "Guy," "Hingston" and "bankrupt" give when placed next to each other in an autocomplete suggestion, but there's nothing inherently defamatory about having those words appear next to each, especially when it produces relevant search results.
Hingston claims Google's automatic search result is defamatory, show him in a false light, and are "highly offensive to a reasonable person."

He claims Google was "was negligent in determining the truth of the information or whether a false impression would be created by its publication."

"This issue, and Google's continued failure to remedy this issue, despite numerous demands to do so, has caused significant harm and economic loss to Dr. Hingston in excess of the minimum jurisdiction of this court," the complaint states.

Hingston seeks at least $75,000 in damages for false light, and court costs.
But the search isn't "negligent" or "highly offensive," unless the person searching for Hingston does nothing more than stare at the completion suggestion and draw all their conclusions from that single, incomplete phrase. Hingston is the only person "offended" by this search suggestion, and any "negligence" is solely on the heads of financiers, etc. who are unwilling to perform even the slightest bit of due diligence when researching Dr. Hingston. Every other link for Hingston points you in the direction of his apparently successful practice and book sales/public speaking sideline. And it must be pointed out again that Hingston is suing over one autocomplete suggestion, rather than the results of those searches.

It's really hard to see how this will come down in favor of the plaintiff, but then again, if judicial systems didn't occasionally head off the deep end, lawsuits like this one would very rarely be filed. 

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  • icon
    John Fenderson (profile), 27 Dec 2012 @ 3:25pm

    His customers must be idiots

    If I saw a google completion of "Guy Hingston Bankrupt", I wouldn't jump to the conclusion that he's bankrupt at all. I wouldn't jump to any conclusion whatsoever. If I were considering doing business with him, I'd probably see where that search term took me.

    If he's lost customers because they were idiotic enough to think google was saying he's bankrupt, he should count his lucky stars. These would be exactly the sort of people who would sue him for some imagined slight or otherwise be a money-costing pain in the ass.

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

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 27 Dec 2012 @ 3:39pm

    Now, of course, searches on his name tend to paint him as thin-skinned and overly litigious. Not exactly the most relevant criteria for a surgeon....

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

  • icon
    That One Guy (profile), 27 Dec 2012 @ 4:21pm

    Every time I see someone suing over a computer algorithm result...

    I can't help but picture someone trying to take a mathematician to court, because they aren't happy that 2+2 doesn't equal 5.

    I'd ask when idiots like this will learn to stop blaming the software for doing it's job, but I'm fairly sure the answer to that one would be, 'When it is no longer profitable to do so.'

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

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 27 Dec 2012 @ 8:06pm

    Why is it so easy to sue people, but so difficult to be sued? Today's legal systems make a mockery of the idea of "innocent until proven guilty".

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

  • icon
    That Anonymous Coward (profile), 27 Dec 2012 @ 8:24pm

    but but but Google has money so they have to pay me!

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

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 28 Dec 2012 @ 6:47am

    Going after Google shows a complete lack of understanding of search technology. Perhaps they should instead focus on the sources of the articles and the keywords they've placed in the articles that Google's algorithm is picking up on. Then again, the press has more protections built into law than a search engine.

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

  • identicon
    Guy Hingston bankrupt, 28 Dec 2012 @ 3:52pm

    Guy Hingston bankrupt

    Guy Hingston bankrupt may not like that Guy Hingston bankrupt comes up in autocomplete, but Guy Hingston bankrupt is here to stay

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

  • identicon
    Port pilots wife, 10 Jan 2013 @ 4:02am

    Guy hingston actually was declared bankrupt

    As somebody with knowledge of both this man and his various business enterprises, I must say, what a darn fine job google is doing with bringing up the three words guy + hingston + bankrupt. He was indeed declared bankrupt to the sum of $20,000,000 in 2010.

    He continued to take money from student pilots until the day the assets of the business were seized. He disposed of assets and fled to the Solomon Islands while his employees were left without jobs, or leave entitlements. His children continue to attend the most exclusive school in Port Macquarie, he continues to owe the previous owners a sum in excess of $70,000. He continues to operate profitably as a surgeon in town.

    He cannot understand why google's search engine might draw an inference between the words 'guy hingston' and 'bankrupt'. Puzzling indeed.

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

  • identicon
    Anonymous, 10 Jan 2013 @ 4:24am

    Only a narcissist googles themselves

    Has anyone stopped to ask why this man feels the need to google himself?

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

  • identicon
    Pete, 21 Jan 2013 @ 9:05pm

    Another god complex doctor

    All this guy has done with this suing is draw attention to his dodgy past - making the situation worse for him. Legally, I think he's got a snowflakes chance of winning against google - they haven't done anything wrong at all - just indexing, indexing, indexing.
    Why anyone would do business with a doctor that's not medically related is beyond me. Doctors aren't a target of business scheme shysters for nothing: they think they know it all, have money, are hopelessly naive and have big egos that are very easy to stroke.

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

  • identicon
    hidflect, 21 Jan 2013 @ 11:13pm


    "Guy Hing.."

    [Guy Hingston Frivolous Lawsuit]

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

  • identicon
    Nickster, 22 Jan 2013 @ 10:18pm

    Google "Guy Hingston pumpkin fucker"

    Do it now! As many times as you can abide.

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

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