Google's Autocomplete may violate individual rights, says Japan court

By on March 26, 2012, 4:00 PM

A Tokyo court has issued a provisional order requesting Google to remove specific search terms from its "Autocomplete" feature. This request follows a petition launched by an unnamed Japanese man. Although his name is currently unknown, the individual's attorney claims Google's Autocomplete links his client's name with crimes he did not commit.

The court issued its request early last week, but Google has yet to publicly respond to Japanese court officials and has yet to comply the request. The man's lawyer, Hiroyuki Tomita, said that because Google is based in the U.S. it may not need to comply with local rules and policies.

Although no official public statement has been made, Google did provide a response to news outlets once journalists began running headlines indicating Google was ordered to disable Autocomplete entirely.

"The judge did not require Google to completely suspend the Autocomplete function. Google is currently reviewing the order."

"Autocomplete is a feature of Google search that offers predicted searches to help you more quickly find what you're looking for. These searches are produced by a number of factors including the popularity of search terms. Google does not determine these terms manually -- all of the queries shown in Autocomplete have been typed previously by other Google users."


It would seem Google is defending its Autocomplete system, claiming the feature's results are programmatically generated. The feature predicts what users are searching for by analyzing already popular search terms and spits them out without any manual input on Google's part.

Given the seemingly autonomous nature of the system, Google may be protected from such complaints in the same way it is protected against providing links to illicit websites and other content on the web. 

Homita says the issue exists because there is a criminal who shares the same name as his client. As a result, when people search for his client's name on Google, they receive automatic suggestions which are only applicable to the criminal.

Homita claims the startling results provided by Google have caused "irretrievable damage". He also pointed out that his client has had a difficult time finding a job since Autocomplete was introduced (that sounds like a long time). Additionally, such alarming results could unfairly ruin his client's reputation, causing complications in other areas of his life as well.

User Comments: 7

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aspleme said:

Searching for my name produces results that don't relate to me (or do, but I was acquitted). Now it is the search engine's fault for any failings in my career or personal life?

How does anyone get off making this accusation? And ruining his reputation/causing complications in other areas of his life? Is he trying online dating and worried that a potential partner will search his name and get bad results?

fimbles fimbles said:

His wife probably typed in re...aly good ways to lose weight, and auto complete chose redtube.

gwailo247, TechSpot Chancellor, said:

I'm guessing this is what a lot of Japanese people are using Google for.

If anytime you type in a name, it adds "criminal record" after the name, just because it is a popular search query, then that speaks more about Japanese society than Google.

If as fimbles said, if anytime someone types in "re" and it autocompletes to redtube (Google's anti porn stance aside) its not cause Google is dirty, its just redtube is the most entered search term that begins with "re".

Guest said:

Last weekend my 5 years old nephew wanted to know "How to make plasticine" (in spanish: como hacer plastilina), and when he was on the "how to..." (Como hacer...) part the search suggested "Como hacer el amor" (How to make love), so maybe Google really needs to polish its Autocomplete after all, or are Latin americans just searching for sex facts?, maybe.

Guest said:

I guess It's because I'm American but, why would you blindly believe this crap an just assume It could only be this guy.

When with a little effort they can easily determine It's not him, I'm not even going to pretend I understand Japanese culture but, couldn't he just Legally change his first name If It's become such a crushing burden to him??

Guest said:

The issue is that employers often receive 1000s of applications for every vacancy. They tend to search google for the person's name to dig up any dirt on them on social networking sites, etc - to save themselves time. Pretending this doesn't happen is simply naive...

In my opinion they have a case - and I'd go as far as to say that the feature is an invasion of privacy and should be removed altogether.

Tygerstrike said:

Perhaps he really does need to change his name. It seems the problem isnt really Googles fault. Its a search engine. Going after Google in a civil case, because currently its not a criminal case, feels more like sour grapes that Google is linking two seperate ppl who share the same name. Its a tenious case at best. More of a tounge in cheek media bite, then anything relevant. Its just showing a flaw in Googles product.

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