Germany Orders Google to Restrict Autocomplete Results


In a ruling this week, a German federal court said Google must restrict information in its autocomplete when it violates personal rights.

The suit, filed by an unnamed man according to the BBC, claimed defamatory autocomplete suggestions on linked him to fraud and scientology.

The ruling states that if suggestions in autocomplete are untrue, it violates personal rights, and therefore violates the new ruling.

The ruling goes on to say that Google itself is not liable for violating rights, but that it has not taken precautions to prevent data generated by searches that violate rights.

The BBC speculates this new ruling could have bearing on a case brought forth by Germany’s former First Lady, Bettina Wulff, for autocomplete results that suggest she’s linked to prostitution.

Google is often the target for restriction of information. In most cases, individuals or groups say the information is harmful to them in some way.

A U.S. autocomplete suit was filed against Google last year for linking a surgeon to the term “bankrupt” in autocomplete. The plaintiff withdrew the case last month without explanation, according to MediaPost.

In April, a Japanese court fined Google $3,100 for autocomplete suggestions that reportedly linked an innocent man to a crime.

Google recently released data that shows government takedown requests by court order are on the rise, and that Google does comply around 45 percent of the time with U.S. requests.

Legal experts speculate that at least in the U.S., Google would be protected against libel as it relates to autocomplete suits under Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, because Google itself is not making the defamatory remarks, rather it’s collecting and presenting the speech of others.

So what do you think: Does censoring autocomplete restrict access to information people have a right to, or is it protecting individuals or groups from defamation that could cause harm?

About the author

Jessica Lee is the founder of bizbuzzcontent, a boutique content services company that offers quality content creation services and content strategy consulting.

Since 2005, Jessica has been in the business of content and communications, with the past seven years focused on the Web marketing space.

Prior to launching bizbuzzcontent, Jessica was responsible for content strategy, development, and marketing for Bruce Clay Inc. - a global SEO firm, where she served small businesses and Fortune 500 clients.

Jessica has a bachelor's in communications and public relations from San Diego State University.

She contributed to the book Search Engine Optimization All-in-One for Dummies second edition, and her writing is featured in an active college textbook, Reading and Writing About Contemporary Issues.