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Japanese court besmirches Google's autocomplete feature

A Tokyo court approves an injunction against the Web giant after a man allegedly lost his job due to his name being associated with criminal acts in the autocomplete search function.


A Japanese man discovered that if he typed his name into Google search, more than 10,000 different suggestions popped up in the autocomplete feature allegedly relating his name to criminal acts. After Google reportedly refused his request to delete some of these words, the man decided to seek a court injunction against the Web giant in Japan.

The Tokyo District Court approved his petition last week, which demanded Google remove certain terms from autocomplete, according to a Kyodo News story published on the Japan Times Web site.

Apparently, the man (whose name was not made public) figured out the autocomplete feature was slandering his name when he unexpectedly lost his job a few years ago and then was repeatedly turned down for new jobs, the Kyodo News reports.

"This [autocomplete feature] can lead to irretrievable damage, such as job loss or bankruptcy, just by displaying search results that constitute defamation or violation of the privacy of an individual person or small and medium-size companies," the man's lawyer Hiroyuki Tomita said Sunday, according to Kyodo News.

When the man approached Google, before filing the court injunction, Kyodo News says the company refused to delete the terms and explained that the suggested words were mechanically inserted and there was no intention to defame him -- therefore his privacy was not being violated.

A Google spokesperson told CNET that autocomplete was designed to help users quickly get access to more relevant information by showing popular guesses of the most likely next word. All queries shown in autocomplete have been typed in before by other users, the spokesperson explained, and there is no intent to convey any opinion with this feature. Currently, the company said it is reviewing the Japanese court's order.

"A Japanese court issued a provisional order requesting Google to delete specific terms from autocomplete," the Google spokesperson said in a statement. "The judge did not require Google to completely suspend the autocomplete function."

This isn't the first time Google has come up against foreign countries demanding terms be deleted from its autocomplete feature. In April of last year, the Italian Court of Milan upheld an earlier decision ordering Google to filter out search suggestions after an Italian man's name was disparaged with autocomplete suggestions, which included associating his name with the words "con man" and "fraud."