Search Engine Autocomplete Defamation is a Thing

As it is a holiday week here, I want to keep it light.  Stumbling across this makes that so very easy.  You can’t make this stuff up.

Google was sued for defamation, based on autocomplete search term suggestions.  Apparently the words Scientology and fraud were added to the plaintiff’s name when the plaintiff’s name was entered into Google as a search query.  (Shouldn’t Scientology have sued for being associated with fraud in that autocomplete?  On the other hand, maybe fraud should have sued for being associated with Scientology.  But I digress.)

The German court concluded that words added to a search query would “… affect the plaintiff’s privacy rights as they convey the statement that there is a relationship between the plaintiff and the negative words …” and that if the added words were untrue … “the plaintiff’s rights would be violated….”

So, that crazy thing happened in Germany – apparently more than one time.

It also happened in Germany last year when Google’s autocomplete function did this with searches for Bettina Wulff, the wife of a former President of Germany:


This started some trouble because Ms. Wulff was described inaccurately in that autocomplete.  You can see why she was unhappy with that.

It happened in Ireland, Australia, Japan and Italy.  (Maybe more, I stopped looking.)

I don’t know how I missed this as it has been occurring, but in addition to the humor value, this stuff is a gift to U.S. lawyers for a very different reason.

I think it fair to say that, outside the United States, the reputation of the U.S. legal system is one of crazy people suing for no good reason and winning huge sums of money.  There is, of course, some truth to that.  However, this autocomplete nonsense is going to give me something to respond with the next time I hear about the uniquely litigious nature of U.S. society.

Speaking of our interesting cultural differences.  Read this article from Der Spiegel about the Bettina Wulff matter.  While there are some good points made in the article, its starts out by stating that:

“The problem has its roots in the American service mentality.”

Der Spiegel doubles down on this as follows:

“It’s pure service-mindedness, but for Bettina Wulff it’s a nightmare.”

If being service minded is a problem, I can recommend some businesses in the United States where you won’t have that problem.

Finally, in light of the our holiday here in the United States, let me say that we wouldn’t have this one without the help of France.  (I know you’re out there.  A bunch of you visited us here at Big Data and the Law this weekend.)  So, merci France (Lafayette and Admiral de Grasse in particular.)  Credit where credit is due.

And to the UK I say, we got over it a long time ago.  (Both the Revolutionary War and the sequel in 1812.)  We’ve been friends a long time now.  Let’s not let the NSA thing come between us.

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