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French court fines Google $65k over search suggestion

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Google has been fined $65,000 by a French court after its search engine suggested the French word for 'crook' when users typed-in the name of an insurance company, according to reports.

The court said Google had ignored requests to remove the suggestion from its 'autocomplete' search engine technology when users searched for insurance firm Lyonnaise de Garantie, a report by the Courthouse News Service said. The internet giant was ordered to remove suggestions for the word 'escroc' from searches for the company.

Autocomplete suggests words or characters for completing a partial search on Google.

Google had unsuccessfully argued that it was not liable for the word association because it had been generated by an automatic algorithm and not by human thought, the Courthouse News Service report said.

Under the EU's E-Commerce Directive online service providers are exempt from liability for content they provide access to but which was not created by them.

However this protection only exists if the provider removes the illegal content quickly when notified of its existence. The French court ruled that it had not, according to the report.

In March last year a court in Milan found Google liable for defamation because its autocomplete suggestions paired an accountant's name with defamatory keywords.

The judges in that case decided that the exemption from liability could not apply, as the suggestions were powered by software that the company had itself created.

In 2010 three Google executives were given suspended prison sentences by an Italian court for not removing a video from YouTube of Turin school pupils bullying an autistic schoolmate immediately following user complaints.

Copyright © 2012, OUT-LAW.com

OUT-LAW.COM is part of international law firm Pinsent Masons.

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