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Things That Exist, Vol. 8: Lawsuits Over Google 'Auto-Complete' Suggestions

I feel like I'm on my computer constantly, poring through hundreds of feeds and stories daily, spanning the globe to bring you the constant variety of legal blogs and information you deserve. But I definitely miss a lot of things that everyone else seems to know about -- the type of things where I can only scratch my head and say, "Really?!? They have that? Never heard of it." 

Today's thing I never knew existed: Lawsuits against Google by people who don't like the "auto-complete" suggestions that come up when they type their name in the search box. 

On the Digital Medial Law Project blog, Jeffrey P. Hermes writes about a case filed in December 2012 by Dr. Guy Hingston, an Australian cancer surgeon, who sued Google in the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California. According to DMLP, Hingston alleges that "Google portrayed him in a 'false light' through its 'autocomplete' feature, because for at least some users entering his name into Google's search engine has triggered the option to search for the phrase 'guy hingston bankrupt.'" Similar lawsuits have been previously filed in Germany and Japan, but this is reportedly the first to be filed in the U.S.

Could such a lawsuit succeed under California or U.S. law? DMLP breaks it down:

  • "False light" requires that the publication in question must identify, or be "of and concerning," the plaintiff. DMLP observes that "it is a stretch to presume that every autocomplete result must relate to a prior search directed at this particular Guy Hingston," as there are presumably many Guy Hingstons in this world.
  • "False light" also requires that the publication at issue conveys an implication that is provably false. DMLP notes that while Hingston interpreted the autocomplete result "guy hingston bankrupt" to imply that he is bankrupt or associated with a bankruptcy, that is also a stretch: "But even if there were only one Guy Hingston in the world, the most that an autocomplete suggestion implies is that someone in the world once thought that they might find content of interest by searching the terms "guy hingston bankrupt." It does not, however, indicate that there is any content on the Internet actually responsive to that search, let alone any content that is damaging to Dr. Hingston."

Overall, DMLP declares Hingston's lawsuit "dead on arrival." Check out the full analysis here.

Posted by Bruce Carton on March 4, 2013 at 04:21 PM | Permalink | Comments (1)

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