What’s one thing a potential employer or date will do before hiring or deciding to meet up with you for coffee Tuesday night? Answer: Google you. Depending on the algorithm’s results, Google’s handy autocomplete may bring up a couple keywords as they start typing your name into the search bar. Here’s where things can get sticky if your name is associated with not so flattering words or activities.
For a Japanese man, this feature has lost him his job and taken away the potential for several others. It is for this reason, a Tokoyo district court has ordered Google to turn off or disassociate certain terms in autocomplete for this unnamed man (the name was withheld for his privacy). PC World reports that the autocomplete function would bring up crimes the man says he didn’t commit:
The search giant likely links the man’s name to the crime terms because a false story about him containing allegations apparently spread across various sites, which were then indexed by the search giant, Tomita said. The man says he has no knowledge of the types of crimes that appear.
Google did not respond to a request for comment on this case. The company has faced similar cases in other countries and has usually responded with the defense that it is not responsible for the results, as they are automatically generated, though this defense has not always succeeded. The company does screen some terms from its auto-complete feature, including pornographic words.
Last year in Italy, a court ordered that Google filter out search suggestions damaging to individual reputations after a man’s name was linked to “con man” and “fraud.“ The company was fined in France because an insurance company was linked to the word ”crook,” and has also been the subject of litigation from a hotel in Ireland and individuals in the U.S., according to media reports.
Tokyo lawyer Hiroyuki Tomita, who is representing the man, said that he was told by some potential employers that he was not brought on thanks to the autocomplete associating his names with the crimes. ABC News elaborates stating that when his name is searched, according to Tomita, more than 10,000 disparaging words are associated with him.
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