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Google in dock again over defamatory auto-complete

Cruel algorithm cost man his job

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A Japanese man is suing Google again after claiming that when his name is typed into the web giant’s search box, the auto-complete function brings up words and phrases related to criminal acts, which link through to articles defaming him.

The man, who unfortunately can’t be named for obvious reasons, filed with the Tokyo District Court, demanding that the offending characters be removed when his name is used as a search term and that Google pay him compensation for the embarrassment it has caused.

Amazingly, the man believes that in a cruel twist of fate, the web mix-up led to his abrupt dismissal from employment several years ago and subsequent difficulty in finding a new role, according to Kyodo news service.

The court has already sided with the man, ordering Google to stop displaying the characters back in March, but the web firm did not comply, forcing the plaintiff to return to court and demand financial compensation for the defamation he suffered.

This isn’t the first time Google has gotten into trouble for the unexpected side-effects of its autocomplete feature.

It lost a case in Milan last year after an angry Italian gent complained his name was autocompleted with words such as truffatore (con man) and truffa (fraud), while a Paris court ruled against it in 2010 after the plaintiff was associated with terms such as “rapist” and “satanist”.

Google’s defence in these situations is that such cases are few and far between, not the result of any human intervention and that data is updated frequently to stay current.

In other words – “sorry, but that’s the way the algorithm crumbles”.

Google could not immediately be reached for comment on the Japanese case. ®

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