Judge Allows Libel Suit Based on Google Autocomplete Search Results

08 August 2014 Internet, IT & e-Discovery Blog Blog
Authors: Peter Vogel

A Hong Kong Judge disagreed with Google that Google’s Autocomplete may have created libeleous content and “cited Europe’s recent ‘right to be forgotten’ ruling requiring Google to remove embarrassing or outdated search results upon request” as reported by the Washington Post.  On August 5, 2014 Deputy High Court Judge Marlene Ng ruled that a lawsuit for libel could proceed based on Google Autocomplete because:

Hong Kong business tycoon Albert Yeung Sau-shing Googled his name, the autocomplete feature suggested the word “triad,” a term that, in Asia, is associated with organized crime.

The Washington Post pointed out libel standards in Hong Kong are similar to the US, and even though Mr. Yeung has an impressive business background he has also been convicted of some crimes:

Yeung is the founder and chairman of Emperor Group, a sprawling business empire that includes property development, entertainment and financial services. He has been found guilty of crimes including illegal bookmaking and perverting the course of public justice, and has been fined for insider trading.

Google’s Autocomplete does not produce every possible option since the algorithm of Google Autocomplete (which cannot be turned off):

…automatically detects and excludes a small set of search terms for things like pornography, violence, hate speech, illegal and dangerous things, and terms that are frequently used to find content that violates copyrights.

Although Google Autocomplete is a great tool, the libel ruling in this Hong Kong case may alter how Google provides services in the future.

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