Google ordered to muzzle defamatory autocompletes by German court

Germany's federal court has forced Google to respond to instances where autocomplete produces defamatory suggested search terms.

In Germany Google will have to prevent autocomplete from suggesting certain searches if it becomes aware they are defamatory, the German federal court has ruled.

A cosmetics and nutritional supplements company and its CEO, only identified as RS, has won an injunction from the court which prevents Google from suggesting two search terms that are defamatory.

The complainant claimed that when his name was searched on Google from May 2010, the site's autocomplete feature suggested additional terms "RS (full name) Scientology" and "RS (full name) scam", despite no evidence of a connection between him and the terms.

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The court ruled on Tuesday that Google must block these particular suggestions because they implied a "factual connection" where there was none, violating the complainant's personal rights.

Google itself was not held liable for violating the plaintiff's rights; however, it had not taken sufficient precautions to prevent the data generated by the software searches from violating third party's rights, according to the court.

Google will not have to regularly vet suggestions that a,utocomplete makes, but it will need to assign a person who is responsible for preventing similar violations in the future. The court also noted the operator "is generally responsible only when it becomes aware of the unlawful violation of personal rights".

A Google spokesman said the company was "disappointed with the decision from the German supreme court".

"We believe that Google should not be held liable for terms that appear in autocomplete as these are predicted by computer algorithms based on searches from previous users, not by Google itself. We are waiting for the written grounds to review the decision in detail."

The verdict overturns a decision last year by a regional court, which will now have to reexamine the case and determine whether damages can be awarded, according to Associated Press.

The decision may also have implications for the defamation suit that Germany's former first lady Bettina Wulff filed against Google in a Hamburg district court last year.

Wulff wants Google to prevent autocomplete from delivering a host of damaging search terms. Google however has refused, claiming the terms are "the algorithmic result of several objective factors, including the popularity of search terms", German newspaper Der Spiegel reported last year