A Japanese court has issued a provisional order today for Google to delete specific terms from its autocomplete search feature.
The decision was based on a man’s claim that the autocomplete results for his name were associated with over 10,000 negative terms, according to a report from Mainichi Daily News. The man, who isn’t named in the report, claims that he lost his job as a result of the search query association. He also apparently reached out to Google prior to taking the matter to court in October 2011.
“It could lead to irretrievable damage such as a loss of job or bankruptcy just by showing search results that constitute defamation or a violation of the privacy of an individual person or small and medium-sized companies,” said the man’s lawyer Hiroyuki Tomita.
The feature in question gives users a list of possible search queries as they type into the search bar. Google’s new instant search feature does this by automatically pulling up results as you type. And anyone who has attempted to search for something can probably attest to the humorous results mid-way through a very generic search query. For instance, I tried to type in the query “Is anyone afraid of” for a screenshot example. But the ridiculousness occurred after only “Is a” — prompting such useful suggestions like “is Anderson Cooper gay,” “is Apollo 18 real,” “is Angelina Jolie pregnant,” and “is Adam Levine gay.” (Here’s a screenshot for proof.)
It’s difficult to assume Google is at fault here. The autocomplete results are just suggestions based on what everyone else is searching for. We also don’t know the man’s real name, which could unfortunately be associated with negative terms regardless of the situation (such as in real life).
Google is currently reviewing the court order. The company issued the following statement to VentureBeat:
“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.”