Google ordered to delete terms from autocomplete

Kyodo

The Tokyo District Court has approved a petition demanding that Google Inc. delete terms from its autocomplete search feature for Internet browsers after a man alleged it breached his privacy and got him fired, his lawyer said.

Google has rejected the order, saying that its U.S. headquarters will not be regulated by Japanese law, and that the case, according its in-house privacy policy, does not warrant deleting autocomplete-suggested terms related to the petition, lawyer Hiroyuki Tomita said Sunday.

The March 19 case is believed to be the first to order the removal of specific terms from the search feature, which attempts to instantly anticipate and list words or phrases a person types into a browser’s search box, Tomita said.

The man, whose name was withheld, decided to seek a court injunction after learning the autocomplete feature likely played a role in the sudden loss of his job several years ago and caused several companies to subsequently reject him when he applied for new jobs, Tomita said.

The man came to this conclusion after discovering that when people type his name into Google’s search engine, words suggesting criminal acts, which he is unfamiliar with, automatically appear. If a computer-suggested term is selected, more than 10,000 items defaming or disparaging him show up in a list, Tomita said.

Before turning to the court last October, the man asked Google to delete certain words from the feature. Google refused on the grounds that the suggested words were being selected mechanically, not intentionally, and thus do not violate his privacy, the lawyer said.

“This 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,” Tomita said.