Man sues gov't for harassment, blames Google's autocomplete

A former government contractor says he was fired after Google's search engine autocompleted his attempted "How to make a radio-controlled airplane" by offering the word "bomb."

Screenshot by Chris Matyszczyk/CNET

Google is an assumptive company.

So when you begin a search, it often assumes what you're looking for faster than you can type.

One man, however, claims that this autocomplete function autoderailed his career.

As Courthouse News Service reports, Jeffrey Kantor claims he wanted to build his son a radio-controlled airplane.

The complaint states, regarding Kantor's situation: "He ran this search a couple weeks before the birthday of his son with the thought of building one together as a birthday present. After typing, 'how do I build a radio controlled', Google auto-completed his search to, 'how do I build a radio controlled bomb.'"

Kantor was employed by defense contractor Appian. He claims that government investigators paid him a visit. He also believes his book buying was monitored, as was everything he did on his computer.

He is alleging civil rights violations, as well as disclosure of private information and retaliation.

His action is not against Google. Instead, it's against a panoply of familiar names: Attorney General Eric Holder, Director of National Intelligence James Clapper, CIA Director John Brennan, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel and Secretary of State John Kerry (among others).

The disclosure of private information argument stems from this accusation:

Kantor's coworkers at the Army, including Northrop Grumman contractors Quem Lumi, Stephanie Buchner and Mike Steinbeck, would repeat back Kantor's private information, including emails, websites he went to, library books he got from the library, conversations he made in his house or in his car, phone calls, information about the contents of his house, and then someone would immediately say that there is a person who dropped dead from hypertension.

As well as this alleged harassment, Kantor insists that the government attached a GPS device to his antenna.

Kantor was fired by Appian, but did secure work on other government projects through other contractors.

However, he claims he was still stalked and harassed during those periods.

In a fit of naivete, I typed "How to make a radio-controlled...." into my little Google search box.

The immediate autosuggestions were, in order, car, helicopter, plane, boat and robot. This was followed by switch and lawnmower.

Perhaps if you're working for a government contractor, Google offers slightly different autosuggestions. (Edward Snowden, if you're reading this, please enlighten us.)

Still, Kantor is asking for $13.8 million in compensatory damages and $45 million is punitive damages.

I suppose that, in these days of allegedly total surveillance, every keystroke we make, someone's watching us.

Perhaps it's best to switch off autocomplete, just in case.

 

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