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Google loses autocomplete case: cannot “suggest” Italian company is a fraud

Estimated reading time: 1 minute, 44 seconds

In Milan, Italy, Google has lost a case which was started against them by an Italian businessman who was ‘suggested’ to be a fraud or conman when searchers looked for his company name in Google.

The autocomplete function from Google suggested that the company they were looking for was truffatore (“con man”) and truffa (“fraud”).

Google tried to “get out” of the claim by stating they are a hosting provider. That way they would be falling under the protection of the E-Commerce Directive’s safe harbour provisions. That protects hosting providers from claims like this. The court however felt the autocomplete function has nothing to do with hosting and was a production from Google.

The lawyer of the business man (who’s name is kept secret) is very happy:

“Google argued that it could not be held liable because it is a hosting provider, but we showed that this is content produced by them (and by the way, they do filter out certain content, including terms that are known to be used to distribute copyright-infringing material), although through automated means.”

He however doesn’t believe this is censorship or that this is an example for possible other cases:

“This by no means an endorsement to censorship, all cases are different, therefore there is no assurance that similar cases would see the same outcome.”

Google off course is not happy with the verdict:

“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.”

The case is remarkable because the auto-complete function is automated based on number of searches and therefore Google says it has no influence on what is displayed. However Google is capable of blocking certain content in suggest, something the Italian judge thinks Google should have done in this case.

In fact if you do a search for “truffatore” or even “truffa” in Italian or “fraud” or “con men” in English there is no auto suggestion for the term and “con men” even doesn’t trigger Instant Search.

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Bas van den Beld is a speaker, trainer and online marketing strategist. Bas is the founder of Stateofdigital.com. -- You can hire Bas to speak, train or consult.