Another Lawsuit Filed For Google Autocomplete 'Defamation'
from the suing-algorithms-for-fun-and-profit! dept
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.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.
"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."
Port Macquarie surgeon Guy Hingston bought the 19-year-old business 2½ years ago.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.
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.
Hingston claims Google's automatic search result is defamatory, show him in a false light, and are "highly offensive to a reasonable person."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.
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.
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.