Google Autocomplete: Convenient, Quick – and Libelous

Google is facing legal disputes on a variety of fronts, both at home and abroad. While much of this revolves around anti-trust issues, the search giant was recently found libel in an Italian court thanks to its autocomplete feature. How is the tool, which is, for most, a convenience, libelous?

Lawyer for the unnamed plaintiff, Carlo Piana, explains that when his client’s name and surname were entered into the Google search field, the queries were autocompleted with suggestions like truffatore and truffa. “Con man” and “fraud.” This has “caused a lot of trouble to the client, who has a public image both as an entrepreneur and provider of educational services in the field of personal finance.” A connection to fraud could be extremely damaging, especially in the financial industry.

This is not the first time that Google has faced libel charges. Until now, they have been successful in arguing that it is simply a hosting provider, not a content producer. This would be true – if one were to enter the unnamed client’s name and then see claims of fraud in the results. Piana argued that the search results are not at issue – the search suggestions, created by Google, is.

Google counter-argued that their algorithm produces suggestions based on previous searchers by other users. In other words, it’s not Google’s fault; it’s the fault of the people conducting the 2 billion queries each day. The frequent pairing of the plaintiff’s name with “con man” and “fraud” resulted in the autocomplete suggestions.

Google refused requests to remove the autosuggestions and was ultimately found guilty of defamation. Google will not offer autocomplete suggestions in Italy.

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