Autocomplete is a feature provided by many search engines that uses an algorithm to automatically display search suggestions to fill queries as information is inputted. These search suggestions are based on a user’s search history, popular search queries, and a number of other objective factors. Autocomplete is an extremely useful search tool, as it may accelerate and refine searches in ways users would not expect. However, despite its benefits, autocomplete has been the subject of controversy. Autocomplete can be potentially defamatory if your name or company is autocompleted with something negative. Even assuming the negative information is false, the suggestion alone has the power to completely destroy your reputation.
Autocomplete was originally implemented to help people with disabilities increase their typing speed and reduce the number of keystrokes needed in order to complete a word or sentence. It quickly became clear, however, that autocomplete served a purpose for all Internet users. Autocomplete operates so that when a user inputs the first letter or word into the search bar, it predicts one or more possible words to fill the query. If the user intends to type what appears in the list, he can select it. If not, the user must type in the next letter of the word. As each additional letter is entered into the search box, autocomplete automatically alters the search suggestions in the drop-down menu. Once the word or phrase that the user intends to search appears, he can select it and press “Enter” to complete the search.
Autocomplete search suggestions are generated by an algorithm that takes into account a number of objective factors, such as a user’s previous searches and popular search queries. Other criteria are also factored into the ranking, such as the user’s location and a search term’s “freshness.” In addition, the algorithm automatically detects and filters out a small set of search terms related to pornography, violence, hate speech, and copyright infringement.
Around the world, Google has been subjected to defamation lawsuits based on the content that automatically appears as Internet users input their search queries into Google’s search box. Even though the content in Google’s search suggestions is mainly based on information inputted by third parties, plaintiffs have sued Google on the grounds that it “controls, “creates,” or “publishes” the information through autocomplete. Plaintiffs’ arguments are based on the fact that Google uses an algorithm to aggregate, synthesize, and reconstitute input query data prior to publishing it in its autocomplete search suggestions. Google also consistently updates and improves its algorithm. Plaintiffs argue that by using artificial intelligence, which Google itself creates and maintains, to actively facilitate searches, Google does more than simply convey third-party information. Therefore, it should be held liable for any defamatory content displayed. Most foreign courts have accepted this argument and found Google liable, forcing it to either remove the defamatory material upon request or otherwise modify its autocomplete algorithm. Continue reading Google Autocomplete and the Potential for Defamation