Japan orders Google to suspend autocomplete over cyber harassment

Tokyo court orders search giant to suspend autocomplete feature for breaching man's privacy, after it claims it got him fired. However Google refuses on grounds that it is not regulated under Japanese law, report reveals.

The Tokyo District Court has approved a petition demanding Google to suspend its autocomplete search feature for Internet browsers, after a man alleged that it breached his privacy and got him fired.

According to the man's lawyer Hiroyuki Tomita, in the Japan Times on Monday, Google had refused to suspend the feature, stating that its headquarters was in the U.S. and would not be regulated by Japanese law. The company also noted that the case also did not warrant deleting the autocomplete suggestions related to the petition under its in-house privacy policy.

The case, adjudicated on Mar. 19, is said to be the first to order the suspension of the Web search feature, which attempts to anticipate and list words or phrases a person will type into a browser search box.

The man who was not named, had decided to seek a court injunction after learning that Google's autocomplete feature may have played a role when he suddenly lost his job several years ago, and also caused a few companies to reject him when he applied for new jobs after that.

He also discovered that when people typed his name in Google's search engine, words suggesting criminal acts, which he was not familiar with had appeared. If computer-suggested words are selected, more than 10,000 items defaming or disparaging him had showed up on the list, Tomita said.

Before turning to the court last October, the man had asked for Google to delete certain words but the company rejected his request on grounds that the suggested words had been selected mechanically, not intentionally. As such, they did not violate his privacy, the lawyer added.

Tomita explained that this could lead to "irretrievable damage, such as job loss of bankruptcy", by just displaying search results related to defamation or violation of the privacy of an individual person or small and medium-sized companies.

"It is necessary to establish a measure to enable swift redress for damage in the event of a clear breach," Tomita said. He added that the man will take further legal action to prompt Google to comply if it continued to neglect the act.

Google has also in recent weeks faced a storm of criticism over its privacy policies. This had prompted South Korean regulators to review Google's policy rule changes that were rolled out on Mar. 1, to see if they violated local laws. The Japanese government also issued a public reminder to the Internet giant about the country's privacy rules, seen as a subtle hint that it was being monitored closely.