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Oi, Google! Stop LIBELLING us Germans, fix your autocomplete

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Google has been ordered by a German court to block defamatory words appearing in its search engine's autocomplete function.

The Federal Court of Justice in Karlsruhe ruled that the advertising giant must remove libellous material from its algorithms that automatically attempt to guess what one is searching for - but only once the internet goliath receives complaints about the defamatory words from netizens in Germany.

As an example, when searching the web on Google.de for "Henrick II von Moneybags", the website's software may automatically appended the words "is a crook" to the search terms if enough people have branded the fictitious entrepreneur a swindler - and it's this algorithm-driven libel that has landed Google in hot water.

An unnamed person who founded an online nutritional supplement and cosmetics company is listed as one of the plaintiffs in the case against the cloud service behemoth. Two of Germany's lower courts had successfully decided in Google's favour, but they have been overruled by the higher federal beaks.

According to yesterday's ruling the cosmetics biz founder complained that his privacy rights had been breached, after www.google.de's autocomplete included "Scientology" and "fraud" as suggested search terms under the man's name. He claims to have no association whatsoever with either subject matter.

The case has now been sent back to the lower court where the ruling has to be changed. Google said it was disappointed by the decision.

"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," the company said.

The ruling (in German) can be viewed here. ®

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