Internet giant Google has been ordered by a German federal court to ensure its autocomplete feature generates ‘clean’ results.
The Federal Court of Justice in Karlsruhe told the search engine firm in the future it must ensure terms generated by the word completion feature are not offensive or defamatory.
A German business man first brought the issue to light in a case started in 2010: The complainant pointed out the fact that when searching his full name on Google.de, the autocomplete function offered suggestions such as “Scientology” and the German word for fraud alongside his name in the search.
The plaintiff argued making such connections violated his personal rights and also his business reputation, connecting him with Scientology and fraud despite the lack of any real link. He demanded the two terms were no longer used as part of Google’s auto-complete function.
Despite his complaints however, in 2012 the Higher Regional Court in Cologne actually ruled in favour of Google – something the Federal Court of Justice has now overturned.
While Google does not have to alter its algorithms in any way, it has had to remove the search terms and in the future will have to remove any offensive or defamatory results brought to its attention.
The statement added: “The operator is, as a basic principle, only responsible when it gets notice of the unlawful violation of personal rights.”
While Google is able to target sites using illicit SEO methods to rank higher or to copy material from elsewhere with its algorithms such as Penguin and Panda, the autocomplete function is a somewhat different entity.
Discussing the verdict and the auto-complete function in more detail, a Google spokesman said: “We are disappointed with the decision from the German Supreme Court.
“We believe that Google should not be held liable for terms that appear in autocomplete as these are predicted by computer algorithms based on searches from previous users, not by Google itself. We are waiting for the written grounds to review the decision in detail.”
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